Brittany Young Is Using Dirt Bikes to Transform Baltimore
[July 9, 2021: Carol Sorgen]
“It’s our sport and the sound of summer,” says 31-year-old Brittany Young, dirt bike enthusiast and founder of B-360, which uses dirt bike culture to equip young people with the skills to attain educational and career opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, motor sports and beyond.
Young’s introduction to dirt biking began as a child when she would go to Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park to watch the riders. “On Sundays in the park I watched my cousins and uncles do stunts and help kids with the bikes ... think of it as a big cookout in a park on a Sunday with music, dirt bikes and families.”
Despite the fact that Young realized that dirt biking wasn’t quite for her – “I don’t like to fall!” – she remained an enthusiast. “It’s ingrained in the culture of Baltimore,” she explains.
Young, who went on to study engineering at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, got the idea for B-360 following the Freddie Gray uprising in 2016. “I saw that Baltimore had identified over 120,000 mid-level STEM careers that could move communities out of poverty but didn’t see plans to better engage people who look like me,” she says.
At the same time, the city created a dirt bike task force to uphold the law. “I just wanted there to also be consideration for programming as a preventive way of shifting people out of traffic,” says Young, adding that that same year her youngest brother went to jail at the age of 16 and was convicted as an adult for nonviolent offenses. “I wanted more for people like him,” she says.
Young believes that B-360 is effective because it shows young people how they can pursue a STEM career while at the same time demonstrating how the qualities that are needed to become a STEM professional are also practical in their everyday life, even when it comes to dirt biking.
“They are already a lot more knowledgeable than people give them credit for,” says Young, remarking that most riders not only have an affinity for dirt bikes but also an understanding of gears, motor, torque and thermodynamics. “When you have to think of the gas-to-oil ratio so that your engine doesn’t explode, when you have to think about choosing between a 2-stroke and 4-stroke dirt bike to get the best wheelie, when you pop a wheelie and have to know how much time and speed to go at what distance, when you fix bikes and do mechanics – all of that is STEM, and we need to better acknowledge their talent,” says Young. “It’s an easy way of merging culture with technology.”
Since B-360 was founded in 2017, the organization has helped more than 7,000 students and hired over 30 former street riders. During the program, participants learn about road safety, the mechanics of bike upkeep, bike customization and how to use 3D printers.
Young was awarded a Baltimore Corps Elevation Award to develop the idea. She has also won the Black Girl Ventures first entrepreneurship competition in Baltimore, the 2018 Echoing Green Black Male Achievement Fellow, and this year was selected as a TED Fellow.
One of the obstacles Young has faced in founding B-360 has been changing the perception about dirt bike riders. “Based on news articles and reports that constantly describe riders who are mostly Black men and boys as criminals, the first obstacle is always bias toward riders,” says Young. “People can’t wrap their heads around how our program works (even though dirt bikes have engines, which means they need to be repaired, which is essentially what a mechanic does), because they really can’t get over the fact that the same people they assume steal bikes and cause havoc are actually intelligent.”
And like most entrepreneurs know, there is always the challenge of making a living. Young was working three jobs at the same time she was establishing B-360. “I still struggle with work-life balance and paying myself,” she says. “I put all of the money in the work and organization.”
Fundraising has been another challenge, as data shows it often is for Black women and Black-led organizations. “This is my reality,” says Young. “We win awards, have plenty of media, have fellowships, but still do not secure grants.” Instead, Young has focused on fee-for-service contracts, working to create products, and ed-tech solutions.
For Young, the accolades that have come her way aren’t what matters. “I know when people read my bio they think success looks like the awards I have received, but it’s really the impact,” she says, pointing to the example of Mike, a rider who, at 17, was unsure of what he wanted to do and had already had several run-ins with the law. He was one of the first instructors hired when B-360 was launched and will soon become a manager. “That’s the success for me,” says Young.
For other budding entre-preneurs, especially women and minorities, Young offers this advice: “Hold on to your why, don’t seek validation, and don’t be afraid to hear no. Do the work. We know there are many obstacles against us but the right donor or investor will gravitate towards a solid product and will see the vision. And for people doing social impact work, make sure your community is rooted in your foundation and seen as an asset to creating the solution.”
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