One might assume that the director of a bicycle repair shop would be crazy about bikes, with a passion for tour races and making sure everyone in the community has a top-notch ride. For Baltimore resident Chavi Rhodes, 30, that’s not quite the case.
Rhodes is the director and founder of Baltimore Youth Kinetic Energy Collective, or BYKE for short. The collective, which Rhodes conceptualized in 2012 and brought to fruition in 2014, is not about taking in as many bikes as possible to turn a profit, but rather to provide quality programming and mentorship to Baltimore City youth that lack important resources in their home life. The 501(c)(3) is sponsored by Fusion Partnerships, Inc.
Rhodes came to Baltimore from Massachusetts seven years ago to study public health at Johns Hopkins University, and after identifying a need in the community, has been here ever since.
How did you get into this line of work?
I was studying for my master’s and I was learning to fix my own bicycle at a DIY workshop for bike mechanics. There were groups of teenagers that would come by and tried to gain access to the workshop and they were consistently sent away, and sometimes those interactions would be very toxic. Meanwhile, I was learning from community mechanics who would fix these kids bikes in their backyard or on corners. In talking with them, it became this idea of “what if there was this structure and organized space where you could fix their bikes without leaving your yard a mess or having kids knock on your door at whatever time?”
Have you always enjoyed bike riding?
I didn’t really ride as an adult until I moved to Baltimore. The bike shop is only about bicycles in that youth in Baltimore are passionate about biking. My background at that point was more in working with youth in urban settings. I was looking at formative research and qualitative behavioral health. It was more about there being a community-identified need and a way to fill it.
How do you make kids aware of BYKE?
Basically, those mechanics started telling kids, “Stop knocking at my door. I’ll be at this place on 3 o’clock on Tuesday.” I recruited a little bit by going into schools and giving a spiel about “this is what this program is.” But it actually wasn’t even necessary. The tinder, so to speak, was there. We had kids in the shop from day one. I’ve had to do very little recruitment.
How has your Jewish upbringing influenced your work?
I was raised in a pretty observant home. So there’s no way to separate my upbringing from who I am. I think the biggest thing is that me and both of my siblings have gone into advocacy fields. I think that is something that’s tethered to the Jewish principles that our parents ingrained in us.
You were an Open Society Institute Fellow in 2015. How has that helped move BYKE forward?
I got the OSI fellowship a year after we opened and were in the process of moving into our own space. We started off in the shop I mentioned earlier, but we needed our own space. Over the course of the fellowship, I was able to stop working and focus only on developing BYKE’s programming. I think one of the biggest impacts is the credibility that comes from getting the fellowship. Other supporters and funders see a person who OSI has deemed as capable doing this full time. That really helped us grow.
What’s the most rewarding element of this work?
The advocacy component is something that often doesn’t come through in conversation. The bicycle element is really not the point. It’s really about the advocacy and the fact that we have mentors from within the community of the population we serve, people with similar lived experiences giving one-on-one time while doing a hands-on thing as opposed to just therapy. We also provide advocacy by writing letters to judges and public defenders and we work with social workers and families and schools and teachers to make sure the youth are getting the resources they need because most of them are not. That’s what it’s about.