Community Service Comes Full Circle for Members of Black Kids on Bikes at King Day Parade

Youth BKoB inspired to join in the parade years ago now serve as inspiration for the next generation

Cortez Wright, at right, first joined the guys he looked up to from BKoB in the King Day Parade when he was 13. Now 17, he and friends Prince (left) and Jacob (center) are the ones inspiring the next generation of riders. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Cortez Wright, at right, first joined the guys he looked up to from BKoB in the King Day Parade when he was 13. Now 17, he and friends Prince (left) and Jacob (center) are the ones inspiring the next generation of riders. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Four years ago, as the King Day Parade inched its way down Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard a smiley, baby-faced thirteen-year-old named Cortez Wright grabbed his fixie and a few friends and joined in the fun.

Three of the four kids that an LAPD officer claimed were supposedly causing problems during the parade and making everything a mess. In contrast, I found these kids to be incredibly sweet, experienced and knowledgeable about cycling and bike maintenance for their age, and super-excited to be able to be in the street with older riders they admired. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
A grinning Cortez Wright (bringing up the rear) at age 13 in his first parade ride with BKoB. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

They popped into the interactive “float” sponsored by Black Kids on Bikes (BKoB) – the Leimert Park-based bike crew that rides on the fourth Sunday of every month – and eagerly showed off their budding skills to the older riders they admired.

Some of the elder statesmen of Black Kids on Bikes: Tony Kee, Ahmed "Slinkee" Goins, Jeremy Swift, and Anthony McNeal. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Some of the elder statesmen of Black Kids on Bikes: Tony Kee, Ahmed “Slinkee” Goins, co-founder Jeremy Swift, and Anthony McNeal. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

BKoB had begun riding in the King Day Parade in 2011 both for fun and, in the spirit of King, as a form of service.

Recreational riding was not an easy sell at the time.

Bikes had long had a presence in the parade (and in the community), thanks to groups like the beloved South L.A. Real Rydaz. But those clubs’ elaborate chrome low-riders were out of reach for most people and not particularly practical for everyday riding.

And cops tended to categorize Black youth on less elaborate bikes as either gangsters or criminals and treat them accordingly. That and the stigma the criminalization of cyclists had created in the minds of the community had helped convince many that cycling simply was not for them.

By commandeering space in the parade and letting paradegoers test out the bikes (fixies were still rather new to South Central at the time), impressing them with tricks, and encouraging them to join in the fun, BKoB actively challenged those perceptions.

They also let the community know BKoB was a resource – that folks inspired to try out biking could get their bikes tuned up for free at one of the group’s regular clinics at Leimert Park’s People St Plaza.

In 2013, Jeremy Swift, one of the founders of Black Kids on Bikes, encouraged kids to take up biking and listen to their mothers. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
In 2013, Swift encouraged kids to take up biking and listen to their mothers. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

BKoB essentially made bike riding more relatable and more accessible.

And their “float” – comprised largely of riders moving slowly in a circle – invited folks to participate with whatever wheels they had.

The community heeded the call.

Lil Chris shows off his serious ride face. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Flanked by his mom and dad, Lil Chris shows off his serious ride face. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Within a couple of years, families, youth, and old-timers alike were seeking out BKoB at the staging area for the parade.

Some came on cruisers. Others came on mountain bikes. There was even the occasional skateboarder or scooter rider.

They all just wanted to be part of the positivity and to participate in a parade that had so much significance for the community.

BKoB started the parade with 15 or 20 riders but accumulated another 40 or 50 as they moved along the route. Here the group pauses just short of Crenshaw Boulevard. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
BKoB started this year’s parade with about 20 riders and accumulated another 40+ riders as they moved along the route. Here, the group pauses just short of Crenshaw Boulevard to commemorate the day (Click photo to enlarge). Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Cortez had once been one of those bystanders.

But his first time in the parade would prove less than ideal.

Apparently uneasy about the momentum the Black Lives Matter movement had gained at the end of 2014, the LAPD came out in much greater force in 2015 than they had in previous years.

They hassled the hell out of cyclists.

One officer tried to eject Aaron Flournoy, the well-known owner of Lil Bill’s Bike Shop, as he rode to catch up with BKoB after he and I patched up his flat tire.

Another spotted Cortez riding without a helmet and used him and his friends as an excuse to try to toss BKoB out of the parade.

That same officer then stopped the Real Rydaz, who were a few floats behind BKoB.

Claiming Cortez and his friends had been disruptive, dangerous, and causing all kinds of problems, the officer asked why the son of club president William Holloway was riding without a helmet (he was on a stable adult trike).

Then, much like he had done with BKoB, the officer insulted the integrity of Holloway and Henry Jackson III (below) by insinuating the club had snuck into the parade. When Jackson protested and pulled out his parade paperwork, the officer dismissively waved it off, saying, “Anybody could have written that.”

King Henry Jackson III on his latest creation.
Henry Jackson III, core member of the beloved South L.A. Real Rydaz, on his latest chrome creation this past King Day. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It was a discouraging way to experience a King Day parade – the one moment of the year you might expect Black people would just be allowed to live.

And it certainly wasn’t the kind of thing that would help allay any concerns new riders might have had with regard to how they would be treated when not within the safe confines of a parade.

But Cortez and his friends were undaunted.

They found their way back into the group once BKoB was clear of that cop’s sight line, determined to ride with the cool kids and claim their rightful place in the streets.

tuneupleimert
Cortez Wright watches BKoB members Mike Glasco (second from left) and Tony Kee (at right) help someone fix their bike at a tune-up session in July of 2015. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Several months later, a now fourteen-year-old Cortez showed up at one of the free tune-up sessions.

He had come to hang out, but got a look at how BKoB used their love of bikes to give back to the community.

Last summer, he would see what it looked like when the community had his back, when BKoB members showed up to pay their respects to the family and friends of Frederick “Woon” Frazier – killed in a hit-and-run at Manchester and Normandie last April. Although there to call for justice, they wanted to know that Cortez – a friend of Woon’s – was OK, too, and peppered him with questions about his life, school, and his job.

Cortez (at left) competes to see who can hold a track stand the longest. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Cortez (at left) competes with other riders to see who can hold a track stand the longest. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Now 17, Cortez has grown into his bike.

He and his peers have become the youth the young kids along the route look up to and want to be like.

And he and his peers are a big reason those kids feel like they are welcome to participate in the parade.

The next generation of Cortezes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The next generation. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Things have come full circle.

Which means that, four years from now, this fearless fellow will likely be inspiring the next generation of munchkins to get on bikes that are a little too big for them and to work on their skills.

This little guy was determined to hone his wheelie skills. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
This little guy was determined to hone his wheelie skills. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

If you’d like to know more about BKoB, check out their FB page or stop by their next tune-up session (this coming Sunday).

See more photos from the King Day Parade below, including members of some of the other clubs that are active in South Central.

A rider who spends way more time doing wheelies than he does riding on two wheels. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
A talented rider who spends way more time doing wheelies than he does riding on two wheels. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Cortez spinning on his back wheel. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Cortez spinning on his back wheel. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
IMG_2606
Pausing to show off the autograph on his BMX while riding with his daughter. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The family that rides together stays together. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The family that rides together stays together. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Lil Chris is not having any of Big Chris' antics. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Lil Chris is not having any of dad’s antics. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Malcolm and Solomon - sons of Jeremy Swift and Amanda Guillermo Swift - have grown up riding in the parade and now inspire others. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Malcolm and Solomon – sons of Jeremy Swift and Amanda Guillermo Swift – have grown up riding in the parade and now inspire the next generation. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Tony Kee rides tall. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Tony Kee always rides tall. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
This youth said he joined in when he saw the group riding. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
This youth said he joined in when he saw the group riding. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
IMG_2581
That face! He was trying to slide into the picture, but the bike stopped rolling before he got up to the group, much to his dismay. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
King Boulevard, indeed. William Holloway, president of the Real Rydaz. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
King Boulevard, indeed. William Holloway, president of the Real Rydaz. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The Real Rydaz can't go five feet without someone wanting a photo. Here, a bystander snaps Holloway and his bike. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The Real Rydaz can’t go five feet without someone wanting a photo. Here, a bystander snaps Holloway and his bike. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Tyrone "T-Money" Williams is one of the core members of the Real Rydaz. He also tends to pack a powerful sound system (and good taste in music). Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Tyrone “T-Money” Williams is one of the core members of the Real Rydaz. He also tends to pack a powerful sound system (and good taste in music). Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Years ago, internal schisms drove the Real Rydaz apart. But yesterday, some familiar faces were back rolling with the club, including Shuntain Thomas. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Years ago, internal schisms drove the Real Rydaz apart. But yesterday, some familiar faces were back rolling with the club, including Shuntain Thomas. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Vanisa of the Ladie Riders flashes a smile. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Valisa Wilson of the Ladie Riders flashes her million-watt smile. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Daro Johnson of the Unique Riders joins friends to ride in support of the SEIU. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Daro Johnson of the Unique Riders joins with friends from different clubs to ride in support of the SEIU. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

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