Anthony Siracusa tells us that his love of bicycles stems from the fact that, in many ways, they saved his life by giving him a way through the world in an uncertain time. He works to share the opportunities that bicycles gave him with young people who don’t have what he had, the ability to even put their foot on the first rung of the ladder that many of us climb through life. Anthony helped launch a bike mechanic training program in an underserved neighborhood last year to provide its kids with the first step on that ladder of opportunity.
Shortly after the ten-week, 200 hour bike fellows program launched, Anthony received a call from a friend who was working with a neighborhood collaborative that was sponsoring a series of free, slow-ride tours. Slow rides provide opportunities to explore surrounding areas by bike, creating connection and community among riders and with their city. His friend said they had a building full of old bikes and asked if the bike mechanics he was training would be interested in refurbishing some of them to be used as loaner bikes for their Freewheel program. They signed a contract, and Anthony looked through 600 bikes, picking out 30 or so to rehab. The kids in the program not only repaired the bikes but also began to serve as leaders and on-the-ride mechanics for Freewheel, which finished its second season this spring.
In the six rides of the spring 2017 season, 265 Freewheelers from over 44 zip codes explored 33.5 miles of their city. Lee Evans, now director of the Carpenter Street Community Bike Shop, tells us that Freewheel is not just a great way to relax and build community. It also provides an opportunity for the kids in the bike mechanics program to talk to and relate with all types of people, thereby building their confidence and communication skills. He explains that many of the boys in the program don’t talk much; they keep things bottled up. He works to help them unbottle and feel secure in expressing themselves.
When Anthony founded the bike shop, he dreamed that someone from the neighborhood would come along to guide the program and take it over one day. He says Lee was the perfect person to do that. Lee assisted in the first class of kids from his neighborhood and now teaches and mentors the current fellows. He has always worked on bikes. It was something he first learned from his older brother, Mark, who died in 1994 and was like a father to him. Mark was a gang member but did not want his little brother to become one. Lee tries to be a role model for the kids in his program, passing on to them the life lessons that his brother taught him through bikes. Donte, one of his students, agrees that having a leader from the community teach them skills to fix bikes helps bring them together.
Anthony concludes by saying that “Anytime we can get more people on bikes, we’ve done a good thing for the world. And if we can give young people a place to stand in the world and give them a lever, a skill, then we can help them navigate the world to be effective and to find fulfillment and happiness.” We agree. Thanks to Anthony, Lee, and Freewheel for doing many good things for the world by continuing the cycle of giving.