Bicycles as tools of empowerment: 100+ bike giveaway recap


Photo courtesy of Regina Murphy.

On Friday September 2nd, Working Bikes partnered with the Faith Community of Saint Sabina, Slow Roll Chicago and Inner City Muslim Action Network to provide bicycles for 108 families in Auburn-Gresham and participate in a ride/walk for peace in the community. This donation was part of Working Bikes’ larger “Cycle of Peace/Cycle of Power” program which provides bicycles as well as locks and helmets for community members who would like to use a bike as sustainable transportation or healthy recreation, but who may find economic barriers that stand in the way.

This particular partnership with St. Sabina was made possible by a generous grant from the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities. We were fortunate to be able to partner with an organization with a history of peace activism which serves a community which has no existing bike shop.

At 6:15 many of the people who had registered for the bike giveaway were already in line, the grills were hot and we were ready with a team made up of WB staff and volunteers, Slow Roll volunteers, and Church staff.  By 6:25 we began and spent just over an hour giving away bikes in the basement (one bike per family). Father Pfleger spoke about building peace on our blocks and in our neighborhood before leading a call-and-response chant “bicycles are- tools of empowerment”.

The amount of skilled volunteers, the house DJ and the food all helped to keep everyone in good spirits. After we finished with the group of registered recipients, we moved on to others who had been waiting, but who had not signed up.  This group included about a dozen women and children from the East Side neighborhood who heard the event was first come first served… I had already spoken to an organizer with their “furious cycles” club and I think they will be another great partner for us to collaborate with in the future. Everyone who attended received a bike and none were left over.

After we gave out all the bikes it was time for the peace march. Friday evening peace marches are a Summer tradition at St. Sabina. A lot of children were with us (on bikes) and the bikers (including march organizers on bikes that DIVVY lent for the event) were all spread out so we ended up just having a ‘march or roll’. As one people we sang “’put down the gun/save a life/right now… black lives matter/black lives matter/ in our neighborhood/in your neighborhood’ behind a cross that said ‘stop shooting’ across the front.

We have a follow-up event that is currently penciled in on Saturday October 15th at the ARK of Saint Sabina. We are promoting it as a mechanical workshop and hope to find a couple young (or old) people in the community who would like to learn basic bike mechanics and go from there. We hope to also host a neighborhood bike ride to further connect residents with safe cycling routes to community resources.

Together, I have no doubt that we can continue to refine and redefine the ways we interact as an organization with others, both locally and globally. Our understanding that bicycles can make a positive difference in the life of people on the South Side of Chicago or in San Salvador is reinforced by the demand from both. As an organization every effort we make to serve this demand results in more people riding bicycles, making our communities healthier, stronger, and more economically empowered.

This post was written by Paul Fitzgerald, general manager of Working Bikes.