In Her Own Words: How Brittany Young Merges Dirt Bike Culture & Stem Education in Baltimore
In her own words, Brittany Young, the founder of the Baltimore-based organization B-360, spoke about dirt bike culture and expansion.
Brittany Young has pride in where she comes from. And Young, who was born and raised in Baltimore, uses that pride to pour back into her city with B-360 — an organization which focuses on empowering youth by merging dirt bike culture with STEM education.
The organization, which launched in 2017, has become a beacon of light during a time where dirt bike culture in the city has been increasingly scrutinized and criminalized. That hasn't stopped the organization in uplifting dozens of local children while garnering concrete structural support; just last week B-360 was awarded $3 million in federal funding in support of building the first dirt bike campus in the United States.
Young, who has a background in engineering and who attended the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, is doing her part, setting up the next generation of Baltimore youth on a path to success. In her own words, Young spoke about her B-360 organization, dirt bike culture in Baltimore City, and more.
As told to Travis Grier
On the Birth of B-360
The Freddie Gray uprising was a moment for Baltimore to either do better or do worse. For me, it was everything transformative. A lot happened in my personal life at that time. I'm the oldest of four. My youngest brother went to jail and was incarcerated as a juvenile but as an adult. He had a lot of non-violent charges that could put him in jail for a very long time. Why is he about to go to jail as an adult at 16? In 2016, they also started the dirt bike police task force. It was a policy, which still exists, that created the task force where the entire job was to uphold the law that says possession of a dirt bike is a misdemeanor. Not even just riding, but possession. I always make it clear that I have no issues with the police. I have issues with the policies.
From my own experience or even now being in education, we always make STEM seem like it's for white men. It's never, "Hey, what you do everyday is actually in STEM. When you pop a wheelie, that's a physics equation." My own personal experience of losing my brother to the prison system, STEM being cool and wanting to make sure Black kids feel empowered and smart to do it, and the Freddie Gray uprising brought about the birth of B-360.
On Dirt Bike Culture in Baltimore
I think it's one of those things where you love it, hate it or you simply have accepted it. I think there are a lot of people who love it. For instance, I think of our students. We work with students who don't wanna ride in the streets. But even under the current law — because possession of a dirt bike is a misdemeanor — even if you don't ride in the streets, they're still seen as a criminal. There are people who do ride in the streets who do it because it helps them relieve their stress. That's all they've ever known. These are the same ones who were at Druid Hill Park and got kicked and forced into the streets. All of our kids' parents let them ride dirt bikes.
What people hate about it could be that they don't know how to feel about Baltimore changing. On Sundays in Druid Hill Park, it was nothing to see dirt bike riders come through the street. That's just what you knew was going to happen. When the city changes, everybody is not familiar with that. So, that means that with more complaints. For me, it’s normal because I grew up like that. For others, it isn't. They become afraid when they see these riders in the streets and the fear oftentimes is rooted in people's predispositions of how they view Black people. We know when Black people congregate together, regardless of what we're doing, people can take offense to that. There's also the other side where there are riders who ride in and against the traffic. That isn't safe. Ultimately, that causes issues for drivers.
We advocate for people who want to ride safely. That doesn't mean we are against people who do ride in the streets. Our big thing is about making sure it's equitable solutions and making sure that people have options. That’s the problem with the current policy. Whether you ride the streets or you don't, there is no right way of doing it in Baltimore. When we look at equitable practices for skateboarders — when this was a big issue — it led to them being able to have their own spaces. It didn't lead to police arresting people.
On Linking STEM education and Dirt Bike Culture Together
It's about breaking that barrier. The way people speak in tech can be so annoying and mundane. We can use an example like a train that's leaving from Philadelphia to get to Baltimore. How much time is it gonna take to get there? Instead of teaching it with trains, we can shift it to dirt bikes and break it down to miles per hour and how long it'll take to get to a destination. It's about making it more conceptual so it's better understanding and then digging deeper into core principles.
The same way that you have to go get your car fixed by a mechanic is the same way you have to get dirt bikes fixed. Those two people do the same skills. Ninety percent of riders we've encountered have already been fixing their bikes. They have such a love for their bike. We break down how and what makes the bikes work. When you hear people doing that classic dirt bike noise, which is tuning, and you hear it and it goes to different levels, that's them learning about and testing their engine. In our world, it's called torque. They learn this, which teaches them about popping wheelies and more. We break things like that down based on what they do and then how it matches to core principles.
There's so much to teach. For instance, there are no helmets that fit the heads of these Black kids because we have so much hair. There's so much more that needs to go into it as far as design. The dirk bike we use can even have better plastic on it, which again means better fabrication, better materials. It's just making STEM not like the boring old way of thinking about and showing them that it's literally a lot of things that they do everyday.
On the Politics of Dirt Bike Riding
Last year it was a bill proposed for Washington County that would've made riding a misdemeanor for the whole state. That was our first time having to testify against a bill and they heard us. They not only heard from me, but also from our young people and supporters. I think that was so important because not only did they see who we are but there was also a realization of all the other areas these politicians didn't think about. What about the 16 year old who does have a dirt fight that his parents got him? No, it's not stolen. What is his option? You didn't think about the 33 year old man who also got his bike legally, but then you says illegal. What's his option?
We no longer have a dirt bike police task force in Baltimore. We agreed that it's just not the best way. We have better ways to handle it. I think we've done a good job showing another side and that influences policy. That influences how people think. Even with a recent house bill, we've been able to recruit people outside of the city in the farmland to stand on our side because it doesn't just affect the Black people in the streets when you make these policies. It also affects the farmers in Western Maryland who also ride in the streets to get to the corner store.
I'm simply experiencing a lot more conversations with people in policy. They never thought about these things because there was no one ever pushing that envelope. I've worked with [former Mayor] Catherine Pugh's administration. She had a dirt bike force that wasn't on the police side of things. We had like a task force to meet internally. The current administration we're working with is thinking about things a lot more holistically.
On the Youth of B-360
I don't have biological kids yet but [the children of B-360] are literally my kids. I think the scariest thing is to watch them grow up. I watched them being second, third, fourth and fifth graders. Now, a lot of them range from eighth to 12th grade. I'm like the cool teacher but also their mother. They have their own mothers and they have me as their youngest mother and I don't play about them. They make me cry sometimes and make me so proud. They've been able to go to Steve Harvey's camp and may be doing some classes with Mr. Harvey this year. They've done press conferences for the mayor, including a lot of public speaking. With our relationship being so important to me and seeing these kids grow, we also have to offer new types of programming.
They just launched their own podcast, too. I'm really proud because people are really getting to hear directly from them about how they feel and what happens. I like how it empowers them to keep using their voice.
On the Future of B-360
Mayor Brandon Scott gave us our own day (March 25). It was the kickoff to our campaign where we are raising funds for the first ever dirt bike campus in the country. This will be a space where you can not only ride, but also ride indoors. You'll be able to fix your bikes, access an auto-body shop, and so much more. There are dirt bike parks but that's for people who ride them in dirt. That's never been our style of riding. When we go visit places, we always hear that no one has ever thought about this. We're not on hills and doing jumps. We can do that but that's not for us. This will be for us and our style. It'll be a campus. There will finally be a space to finally call home for Black people who ride dirt bikes.
We're going to be worldwide. I got connected with some riders when I went to Ghana earlier this year. I want our own events like Supercross. I want our own helmet and equipment line. When you see things like House Kawasaki and stuff like that, I want B-360 versions. all that stuff too — shows and books based off of the B-360 kids' lives. Really, I just want a whole developed brand. We might even have our own TV show about Black people who ride dirt bikes. It's so much I can't even think about 10 years from now because I've done so much just in six.
Travis Grier is a freelance writer based in Baltimore who has written for Def Pen and Karen Civil. He can be found on Twitter at @yoyotrav.