Jamaica Plain nonprofit Bikes Not Bombs is reimagining new ways to use the bicycle as a vehicle for social change to achieve economic mobility for Black and other marginalized youth from Boston’s most under-resourced neighborhoods.
Through a recently formalized, multi-tiered Youth Pathways program, Bikes Not Bombs is addressing the critical need for safe, supported spaces where young people can connect, build hands-on skills, and develop meaningful, long-term employment plans.
The longtime fixture in Boston’s bicycle community will broaden its reach by expanding its physical footprint and deepening its impact on young people by integrating case management and therapeutic support into its youth development model. This work is unfolding at a time when the COVID-19 epidemic has significantly amplified experiences of isolation and self-doubt among young people everywhere, particularly Black and other marginalized youth.
This year Bikes Not Bombs teamed up with Children’s Services of Roxbury (CSR) to open a new Bike School “Hub” on Dudley Street in Roxbury this spring. Bikes Not Bombs program staff and mechanics are collaborating with CSR therapeutic support staff to design learn-and-earn bike programs through which young people build connections, learn basic bike mechanics, engage in wellness activities, all while earning a bike of their own.
BNB is also implementing bike school programming in Boston Public Schools, providing a bicycle-based curriculum to young people searching for hands-on alternatives to traditional academic learning. Some bike school graduates are able to progress on to paid three-year youth apprenticeships where they work with professional mentors to develop critical workplace skills, build a robust employment portfolio, and establish post-secondary plans that set the foundation for long-term economic success and thriving futures.
A new advanced mechanics program is expanding BNB’s capacity to offer professional-level mechanics training for all youth apprentices, which they put to work teaching others as bike school co-instructors, providing sales and repair service in a mission-driven full-service bike shop, helping to manage the bike recycling and international shipping operations, and organizing for transportation equity in Boston’s most disenfranchised neighborhoods through Bicyclists Organizing for Community Action (BOCA) initiatives.
Executive Director Elijah Evans knows BNB from the ground up as he began his journey as a teenager at BNB, working his way up the ranks after building his first bike and discovering the vibrant bicycle community at age 14.
“Our approach engages young people in their own development because they have assets, they have strengths. They are not coming to us as empty vessels, and that’s really important. We have to value them, so they can see the value in themselves,” said Evans.