Racism and its sinister effects are everywhere – the streets included. At NBW we’ve recognized that the roadways (and elsewhere) must be for everyone and that the long history of creating streets safe only for well-off, white people shouldn’t follow us forward anymore. In the effort for safe streets and the newer attempt to eliminate all traffic deaths (an effort called Vision Zero), we must scrutinize the offered solutions to ensure that they protect the most vulnerable road users. This is a challenge with Vision Zero, however, since erratic enforcement of traffic and other laws further endanger vulnerable road users, especially people of color.
As Paul Hetznecker, a Philadelphia civil rights attorney pointed out to PlanPhilly, “traffic stops have been used as pretexts for unconstitutional search and seizure.” This means that even as we work to make streets safer and to eliminate traffic deaths, we must remember that speed cameras, police presence, and other increased enforcement measures can result in targeting and surveilling people of color on city streets. At NBW, we’ve seen that police presence intimidate and harm NBW youth, program alumni, and other members of our close community. At times NBW youth graduates have been accused of stealing bikes they’ve earned at NBW. Officers have assumed that a black youth in Philadelphia couldn’t rightfully own a high quality bike. This has happened more than once, at more than one NBW site. Again and again, we’ve heard those in the NBW community share violent, terrifying stories of police brutality on city streets. One effect of this inequitable, increased enforcement is that people, including those in our NBW community, sometimes choose to stay at home, instead of joining in programs or activities. Sometimes the trip just isn’t worth the outsized risk of being pulled over or harassed on the street, seemingly at random.
Shivon Love's first day as Director of Youth Programs was on MLK Day and she was ready! Shivon joined us around 10am, introduced herself to youth, and right away started building positive relationships, both with youth in our Leadership and Advanced Mechanics Course and with her new NBW co-workers. She buddied up with several youth who were nervous about attending their first march and offered calmness, encouragement, and support.
It isn't surprising that Shivon has stepped into her role with grace and warmth - our hiring committee was impressed with her proven success in developing positive relationships with both youth and coworkers and bringing a style of leadership that encourages and empowers those around her. Shivon sees her role at NBW to support youth and youth program staff while pushing the cycling community and industry to become more inclusive and accessible, especially to the youth in our programs.
This month, Liz Pisarczyk, our Program Director for the past four and a half years, is leaving her role at Neighborhood Bike Works. Liz has accomplished a ton while at NBW, and has served as an incredibly dedicated advocate for Philadelphia youth during that time.
Liz initially came to NBW in the summer of 2008 as a work-study intern while in her Masters of Social Work program at UPenn. She returned in 2011 as a site manager at NBW's headquarters at St. Mary's Church, and in August of 2012 Liz became our Program Director.
Reflecting on her time at NBW, Liz says that "the faces have changed, and the community continues to grow stronger." Staff that Liz has worked alongside have had such a positive impact, Liz says, "and their presence is still strong."
If you've visited NBW or seen us at community events in the last three years, it's likely you've met and been charmed by either Joshua or Gerry. Both are at NBW several days a week - assisting students in after-school programs, recruiting youth to NBW, drafting agendas, and leading meetings. We're seriously indebted to this often unrecognized and inventive pair.
I sat down with both of them to learn more about the Youth Council and Board of Directors which, respectively, they advise. We had a conversation about NBW's recent history and their vision for NBW's future.
To offer some background, Joshua is 17 years old and is President of NBW's Youth Council. Gerry is a long-time NBW volunteer (nine years) and is NBW's Board President. They each manage advisory boards and have rich histories participating and volunteering with our programs. When asked which programs they've completed or volunteered with, both listed every single program that NBW offers - a total of approximately 15 distinct NBW programs!
This October, NBW joined the annual West Philly Peoplehood Parade organized by Spiral Q, another youth non-profit located on Lancaster Avenue. We've been joining this artistic celebration of community activism for years, but this year might have been the most meaningful yet. We participated with youth, parents, volunteers, and staff carrying a banner that youth had prepared in advance of the parade. We engaged NBW youth graduates through a banner-making workshop centered around the theme of this year's parade: "We All Might Be Giant."
This theme called on participants to think of themselves not as isolated individuals, but as part of a larger social organism capable of standing up to oppression and stamping it out. Our banner read "These Issues Matter" and provided space for youth and parade participants of all ages to list issues that matter to them. Messages such as, “Black Lives Matter,” “mass incarceration,” “education,” and “women’s rights,” found their place on our banner.