Black Genius Revs Up To The Nation’s First Dirt Bike Campus


An engineer, social entrepreneur, and Baltimore native, Brittany Young is on a mission to indicate young people how good they’re, in order that they could be their very own geniuses and problem solvers. Via B-360, the Baltimore organization she began in 2017, Young is solving for 2 seemingly disparate challenges: the dearth of meaningful STEM education and the stigmatization of Black youth culture in Baltimore, as embodied within the culture of motorsports (dirt bikes). Ashoka’s Angelou Ezeilo sat down with Young to study B-360’s work to unleash young people’s brilliance, create protected spaces for learning and belonging, and build the nation’s first dirt bike campus, now with $3 million in latest funding.

Angelou Ezeilo: Brittany, you and B-360, the organization you founded and lead, deal with motorsports for a number of connected reasons. One is education and job skills. Tell us more.

Brittany Young: Right. Bike riders, young and old, learn mechanical engineering just by repairing their bikes. That is true! And I’m saying this as an engineer myself. It’s higher than reading a textbook. So not only is dirt bike riding embedded in Black Baltimore culture, it’s teaching skills that may literally pay the bills.

Ezeilo: But dirt bike riding is criminalized in Baltimore, right?

Young: Yes, but the rationale people ride dirt bikes in traffic is that there are not any dedicated spaces for it. For basketball, you go to a rec center. For swimming, there is a pool. But for individuals who ride dirt bikes in Baltimore, there’s only the streets. In order that’s why we’re excited to construct the nation’s first dirt bike educational campus in the guts of town — for which our first federal investment is in, a $3 million grant just announced with support from our Senator Van Hollen and Senator Cardin.

Ezeilo: Great news, congratulations! The announcement also recognizes B-360 as Baltimore’s only diversion prison program. What’s the link there?

Young: Well, within the early days of B-360, we saw that plenty of our students were getting charges for dirt bike possession. So I used to be calling judges, talking to lawyers, putting together paperwork. Then in 2020, our Baltimore City state’s attorney’s office reached out to us. They desired to take a latest approach to dirt bike-related offenses. Out of that got here the B-360 diversion program. So now when people get arrested for any nonviolent offense, they’ll opt into our programming, for at least 20 hours. Once they complete the training, we submit a letter to that judge, and charges are dropped. The young people may also develop into employed with B-360 to construct transferable skills.

Ezeilo: You’ve said that some 122,000 STEM jobs exist in Baltimore that do not require a four-year degree. How do you connect Black students with these jobs, and what barriers are you finding?

Young: When you tell a student, “Hey, read this physics book,” they will ask, “Why should I care?” But when you say, “Hey, you pop a wheelie happening the road at this angle, and you have got to determine how long it takes to get down there and at what time,” that is actually a distance equation — which is physics. And also you’re now talking about Newton’s second law. Now, we also need the dynamic in educational institutions and workplaces to be culturally competent because access isn’t the one barrier. For instance, I grew up knowing I desired to go into STEM. I went to the number 4 highschool for STEM within the country and had great grades. But once I got into the industry, people had never met a Black girl from Baltimore who worked in chemical engineering. The culture in plenty of STEM institutions is white male-led, or white-led, period. You may be ready for STEM, but STEM is not at all times ready for you. And so we would like to get more Black people to not only go into STEM but to remain there. That’s when the virtuous cycle truly starts.

Ezeilo: You draw young people in through dirt biking. But are they now beginning to see that there are such a lot of other jobs which might be unlocked through your program as a vehicle?

Young: Yes. Plenty of our very first students at the moment are pursuing entrepreneurship and contributing their very own ideas. Daron desires to open up his own auto body mechanic shop to make his own dirt bikes after which to enter business. Treasurer is a woman who just turned 16. She desires to be a traveling psychiatric nurse. A STEM profession is cool, do not get me unsuitable. But we would like to be certain that young people have cognitive reasoning skills in order that regardless of what they develop into, be it a chef, or an entrepreneur, or an astronaut, they’re well-equipped. After which after we take a look at the information, 100% got here for dirt bikes, and greater than 90% leave wanting to enter STEM careers due to our programming. Not to say the 43 point increases on their standardized tests.

Ezeilo: While you began helping young people access STEM careers, were they aware that these possibilities existed?

Young: You understand, as a teacher some years ago, I remember asking my fifth graders, “What do you need to do?” And nobody had ever asked them what they ever desired to do in life. That’s heart-breaking. But once you take a look at the links between skilled stunt riding and Black street riders, you see that this industry wouldn’t exist without us. Just take a look at the Bessie Stringfield Award. The American Motorcyclist Association gives out this award, which is called after a Black woman and the matriarch of stunt riding. When you ever watched “Lovecraft Country” and saw that woman riding the Harley, that is Bessie Stringfield. She’s the rationale Harley Davidson is popular today. She rode through the Jim Crow South to spread the novel vision of a Black woman on a motorbike. Yet within the history of this award, I used to be the primary Black person, in 2021, to have ever won it! Point being, we want to raise latest role models.

Ezeilo: Brittany, you are not a mud bike rider yourself, right? So how are you involving people near this problem to be a part of the answer?

Young: I had a complete conversation too with local dirt bike riders to get consent, to get buy-in. And from that group, we also got riders who signed on with us to be an element of programming as educators. These riders are really idolized by the young people.

Ezeilo: While you take a look at the statistics, Baltimore is around 68% African American. Yet a lot of the wealth is held by white residents. After which the unemployment rate for young Black men is 37%, in comparison with 10% for young white men.

Young: Yes, that is all true. And it’s also true that negative framing is unfortunately a part of the issue. When people take into consideration Baltimore, they might also consider Billie Holiday, all these great those that come from town, or the indisputable fact that we are the number five tech city within the country. After which there’s also plenty of Black wealth in Baltimore, too. The importance of a corporation like B-360 is that we will begin to shift that narrative and lead with what’s working, the brilliant spots that show a latest way forward, something to aspire to.

Ezeilo: Your idea lands with impact for education, talent, jobs, criminal justice. When did you recognize that this concept was working?

Young: Ha! It was the indisputable fact that our program kept growing. With my older students, I knew we were doing it right, after they kept coming back. One among the riders now we have now, Derek, has been riding his whole life. He knows easy methods to put together a mud bike by hand. And what I like about Derek is that he’s motivated and prepared for more. He says, “Let’s get more people involved.” And he’s barely 20 years old, so his potential is big. Nevertheless it was also seeing the change in how students spoke about themselves. In fact, that they had never done dremeling or soldering or worked with CNC machines, in order that was a metamorphosis. But hearing them say, “We love Baltimore. We all know that we’re smart.” That was an important shift.

Ezeilo: Last query: How does it feel to be recognized — by Ashoka and in your TED talk with some 1.5 million views up to now — as a number one changemaker?

Young: To me, a changemaker is just a elaborate word for a survivor. Black people in America have at all times needed to be progressive, we have at all times been those that should go against the system, though it’s assumed that the system is rarely unsuitable. The facility within the work we do is igniting and exploding the genius of our community. And what B-360 has been showing is just how smart these students already were and can proceed to be.

Brittany Young and Angelou Ezeilo are each Ashoka Fellows. This interview was edited for length and clarity by Ashoka.


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