The Riverside neighborhood of Indianapolis is considered a high-crime area with limited opportunities. But residents noticed that many local youth, particularly African-American males, spent a lot of time riding, fixing and enhancing their bicycles.
An idea was born.
Riverside residents made a strategic investment in their neighborhood and their youth by donating money, tools and space to launch a community bike shop. By the end of the summer 2018, with the help of donated bikes from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the shop opened with great fanfare. Boston’s WBUR radio featured the shop’s story.
Biker Boyz & Girlz Shop provides neighborhood youth with jobs that pay $12 per hour. Like most startups, sustainability of the effort is a big question. However, the greatest aspect of this startup story is that it was completely resident-led — with the sole purpose of supporting the gifts and talents of neighborhood residents.
“It is important to show everyone that there is good here and not just the crime and negative stuff,” one Riverside resident told Grassroots Grantmakers Executive Director Roderick Wheeler at the shop’s grand opening.
At the forefront of this community initiative is DeAmon Harges, President of The Learning Tree, a resident-led community investment organization. Harges also is a faculty member of the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) Institute and board chair for Grassroots Grantmakers.
As a professional community builder, Harges spends most of his time training individuals, organizations and institutions to see communities as a collective story of people and their resources, gifts, assets and social capital. He advocates for leveraging these aspects of a community to improve the quality of life for its residents.
Harges says the impetus behind the Riverside neighborhood bike shop and other community initiatives launched by The Learning Tree is the desire to look at neighbors as “gifted humans, not crime statistics.”
The WBUR story noted Indianapolis’ struggles with its homicide rate. And violent crime disproportionately affects African-American males. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide represents either the leading or second-leading cause of death among African-American males between the ages of 10 and 34
But Riverside residents didn’t rely solely on research or experts to develop a community investment strategy addressing the issue of crime.
Instead, they invested in employing youth, a strategy that has been found to reduce violence within communities.
“The bike shop,” a Riverside resident told Wheeler, “shows everyone that we can do something about our own place.”
According to “Community and the Crime Decline,” in2017, research shows that the prevalence of resident engagement, and the subsequent formation of community organizations, is associated with decreased rates of neighborhood violence.
Meanwhile, there is strong evidence that investing in youth employment initiatives can significantly decrease youth mortality rates. Unfortunately, in America, youth employment rates are at historic lows, and the demand for jobs by youth far outpaces the supply of employment opportunities.
Benefits for youth, community
Riverside residents created employment opportunities based on the identified interests of youth. And this community investment strategy may have tapped into a larger trend. Studies have shown that the majority of youth and young adults between the ages of 13 and 22 either own a business or plan to own their own business, or are self-employed or engaged in some type of secondary employment opportunity to generate income. Therefore, coming together to start a bike shop may resonate among youth more than working at an existing retail store. At Biker Boyz & Girlz Shop, employees learn critical soft skills and develop bike mechanic skills, lessons that will be valuable in their future work experiences.
The bike shop’s benefits have gone beyond the individual residents who are taking advantage of its employment opportunities and its services, however. As another resident at the grand opening told Wheeler, “The bike shop has changed the neighborhood.”
As community investment professionals, we are aware of some critical quality-of-life issues that affect crime, including:
- Low education attainment rates.
- Chronic joblessness and limited employment opportunities.
- Limited access to affordable health care and mental health services.
- Lack of housing in safe neighborhoods with a strong sense of community.
Grassroots Grantmakers will continue to spotlight resident-led efforts, like this Indianapolis bike shop, that address these issues.