Multicultural Communities for Mobility Honors One of Our Favorite South L.A. Activists

John Jones III, head of the East Side Riders, and his wife, Gladys, at the Multicultural Communities for Mobility award ceremony

Last night, Multicultural Communities for Mobility (MCM), formerly City of Lights, held its third annual awards dinner and ceremony. Alongside deserving honorees Michelle Mowery (Senior Bicycle Coordinator at the L.A. Department of Transportation), and Howard Krepack (Attorney and Partner at GEK Law), stood South L.A.’s own (and also very deserving) John Jones III, president of the East Side Riders.

“Who woulda thought some guy from the ‘hood would be given an award?” he said as we left the restaurant after the ceremony.

Considering all he’s done for the community, it wasn’t hard to see why he was singled out for his efforts.

Although the East Side Riders are technically a bike club, they have always used bikes and cycling as a way to promote positive messages and offer tangible assistance to the community. For them, it was never just about riding.

When they first began operations four years ago, they would pool their own funds, purchase supplies, and put together 100 sandwiches to be given out to the homeless as they rode the streets of South L.A.

From there, they started networking with park officials so that they could run an informal co-op of sorts at Parks After Dark, teaching kids to fix their bikes for free.

Now, the East Side Riders are essentially everywhere. I can barely keep up with everything that they have their hands in, from participation in local community festivals, to collaboration with community organizations, to assisting with bike counts, to promotion of a South East CicLAvia, to their work with RideSouthLA, and, most recently, their active participation in the LACBC’s Neighborhood Bike Ambassador program.

And all of their work is volunteered; funds for their activities come out of their own pockets.

More recently, the club has been trying to raise funds to support their community work through the selling of club t-shirts. But Jones isn’t particularly good at that — I always catch him giving stuff away, especially to kids.

What he’d rather see all of his activism result in, he told me after the ceremony, was jobs in the community.

Who knows? Maybe if business owners and the public sector can learn to see South L.A. differently through the work of groups like the East Side Riders, they will be more interested in investing in it and its people.

One can only hope.

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Besides the honoring of Jones and the East Side Riders, it was exciting to see the steps forward that MCM is taking.

Originally a project linked to the LACBC, MCM has become an independent non-profit this year.

“I remember when we first began,” said Betty Avila, MC for the evening. “We googled immigrant cyclists…[and] were shocked to find that almost nothing was geared toward communities of color, much less any bilingual material or workshops.”

Years later, she continued, groups around the country draw inspiration from their work and emulate their successes.

In their new incarnation, MCM is broadening their approach beyond cycling concerns to address the more comprehensive transportation needs of lower-income communities, including safer sidewalks and better access to good transit options.

A highlight of the evening was the unveiling of a major achievement for MCM — their new public service announcement. The PSA is part of the “Precaución!” campaign.

Both the video and poster were the result of an intensive collaboration with day laborer cyclists to create an educational tool that asked Spanish-speaking cyclists and motorists to be more aware of each other and share the road.

After the PSA and inspiring speeches from Mowery, Jones, and Krepak’s son, Adam (reading his father’s moving words because Krepak is suffering from ALS), attendees participated in a live auction, all funds from which will go directly to MCM’s programming.

I, for one, am looking forward to watching MCM grow and see them use their grassroots approach to help bring Complete Streets to lower-income communities.

Congratulations and thanks to them and the honorees for their contributions to making L.A. a much bike-friendlier place to be for all its inhabitants.