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When Dirt Bikes Lead To Education And A Sense Of Belonging

Baltimore has long housed a dirt bike subculture, earning the city the unofficial title of “dirt bike capital of the U.S.” However, Charm City has taken a less than charming official stance on the vehicles, with numerous laws meant to subdue their ownership and usage, claiming a threat to public safety. Possessing a dirt bike, unless it is immobilized or riding one on public or private property, in the city is illegal. Yet, much like skateboarding or extreme sports, dirt biking is an art form for those that partake in it. 

Brittany Young is one Baltimore resident whose life has been impacted by this activity. She remembers watching the riders at Druid Hill Park with her family on summer Sundays before going home for an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy. The two interests are not as different as they may seem: “A rider has to think about how much time it will take to pop a wheelie, get down a street at whatever speed they are going and make sure they don’t crash,” she told The 74. 

Photo Courtesy B-360

Young received her first chemistry set at the age of six. Her first Black teacher, Ms. Taylor, let her attend high school science club competitions even though she was only in third grade. “That’s what kind of redirected the evil genius, mad scientist, little Brittany to think, ‘Okay, this is really a career, and I think I want to go into engineering,’” she explained to Shondaland. She later worked as an engineer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and as an adjunct faculty member at Baltimore City Community College. These experiences inspired her to play a teaching role for the city’s Black youth. 

Photo Courtesy B-360

In 2017, Young founded B-360. Almost poetically, the nonprofit brings all the pieces of her life together by using dirt bikes to deal with systemic social issues. First, it addresses the lack of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education and opportunity for young Black people.

Pew Research Center findings from 2021 show that Black workers only make up 9% of the workforce in STEM. B-360 creates a pipeline for Black children into those careers. Kids under 16 years old are given an education with actual application in dirt bike riding, while those who are older are trained to be instructors and mentors. 

As Young tells  Forbes, “The culture in a lot of STEM institutions is white male-led, or white-led, period. You can be ready for STEM, but STEM isn’t always ready for you. And so we want to get more Black people to not only go into STEM but to stay there.” Perhaps most importantly, participants learn that these careers are out there and accessible to them. B-360 has worked with over 7,000 kids under 16 and has helped them achieve a 45 percent improvement on state standardized testing. 

Photo Courtesy B-360

Second, B-360 addresses Baltimore’s harsh punishments for these nonviolent offenses, amounting to fines of up to $1,000 or imprisonment of up to 90 days.

As Young illustrated to Vice, “Imagine whatever you use to relieve your stress. If, publicly, someone crushed it—condemned you for using it—is that not only going to hurt your feelings but also make you want to go harder? Cities are unconsciously igniting wars but not wanting. . . a real solution.” She instead channels dirt bikes to create opportunities for riders. 

Young protects them from criminalization through a diversion program she started with Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office in March 2021. The Office refers individuals charged with dirt bike offenses – who are over 18 and have no violent criminal history – to B-360. They work through 20 programming hours covering traffic safety, STEM topics, and employment preparation. In the end, B-360 writes a letter to the judge to have the case dismissed. This program has led to an 81 percent decrease in arrests for dirt biking in the city and saved taxpayers $1.2 million by avoiding prison time. “The kids and young adults we work with want to have fun every day, and they deserve an opportunity to have fun, to be safe, and to exist,” she told the Baltimore Banner. 

This young founder also provides these kids with safe spaces to practice riding. “The reason people ride dirt bikes in traffic is that there are no dedicated spaces for it,” she said to Forbes. B-360 has therefore held events at locations like the B&O Railroad Museum, which allowed the group to use empty parking spaces on their land so they would not be in danger on busy roads. 

Photo Courtesy B-360

However, Young has bigger dreams: a permanent campus in Baltimore City with an indoor and outdoor riding track, classrooms, and a technology lab. The team reached out to Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, which resulted in a $3 million federal investment for the first dirt bike campus in the U.S., announced on March 24. “Senator Cardin and I fought to invest in them because we believe they have been — and will continue to be — part of making Baltimore a stronger community with greater prosperity,” Senator Van Hollen wrote to Technical.ly. The campaign for the vision, Ride 4 Change, seeks to raise $10 million by 2024. 

Photo Courtesy B-360

At the announcement, Young said she wanted to offer over 250,000 jobs and transform the motorsports industry. B-360 is more than that. It is about continuing to invest in Black people at an unseen level.

It’s right there in the name. Young explained to the 74: “It’s not just about dirt bikes; it’s about Black freedom. So, literally, be part of a change, be part of a revolution, be part of systemic change beyond dirt bikes, for Black people across the country.” 

Photo Courtesy B-360

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