Four years ago, as the King Day Parade inched its way down Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard a smiley, baby-faced thirteen-year-old named Cortez Wright grabbed his fixie and a few friends and joined in the fun.
They popped into the interactive “float” sponsored by Black Kids on Bikes (BKoB) – the Leimert Park-based bike crew that rides on the fourth Sunday of every month – and eagerly showed off their budding skills to the older riders they admired.
Recreational riding was not an easy sell at the time.
Bikes had long had a presence in the parade (and in the community), thanks to groups like the beloved South L.A. Real Rydaz. But those clubs’ elaborate chrome low-riders were out of reach for most people and not particularly practical for everyday riding.
And cops tended to categorize Black youth on less elaborate bikes as either gangsters or criminals and treat them accordingly. That and the stigma the criminalization of cyclists had created in the minds of the community had helped convince many that cycling simply was not for them.
By commandeering space in the parade and letting paradegoers test out the bikes (fixies were still rather new to South Central at the time), impressing them with tricks, and encouraging them to join in the fun, BKoB actively challenged those perceptions.
They also let the community know BKoB was a resource – that folks inspired to try out biking could get their bikes tuned up for free at one of the group’s regular clinics at Leimert Park’s People St Plaza.
BKoB essentially made bike riding more relatable and more accessible.
And their “float” – comprised largely of riders moving slowly in a circle – invited folks to participate with whatever wheels they had.
The community heeded the call.
Within a couple of years, families, youth, and old-timers alike were seeking out BKoB at the staging area for the parade.
Some came on cruisers. Others came on mountain bikes. There was even the occasional skateboarder or scooter rider.
They all just wanted to be part of the positivity and to participate in a parade that had so much significance for the community.
Cortez had once been one of those bystanders.
But his first time in the parade would prove less than ideal.
Apparently uneasy about the momentum the Black Lives Matter movement had gained at the end of 2014, the LAPD came out in much greater force in 2015 than they had in previous years.
They hassled the hell out of cyclists.
One officer tried to eject Aaron Flournoy, the well-known owner of Lil Bill’s Bike Shop, as he rode to catch up with BKoB after he and I patched up his flat tire.
Another spotted Cortez riding without a helmet and used him and his friends as an excuse to try to toss BKoB out of the parade.
That same officer then stopped the Real Rydaz, who were a few floats behind BKoB.
Claiming Cortez and his friends had been disruptive, dangerous, and causing all kinds of problems, the officer asked why the son of club president William Holloway was riding without a helmet (he was on a stable adult trike).
Then, much like he had done with BKoB, the officer insulted the integrity of Holloway and Henry Jackson III (below) by insinuating the club had snuck into the parade. When Jackson protested and pulled out his parade paperwork, the officer dismissively waved it off, saying, “Anybody could have written that.”
It was a discouraging way to experience a King Day parade – the one moment of the year you might expect Black people would just be allowed to live.
And it certainly wasn’t the kind of thing that would help allay any concerns new riders might have had with regard to how they would be treated when not within the safe confines of a parade.
But Cortez and his friends were undaunted.
They found their way back into the group once BKoB was clear of that cop’s sight line, determined to ride with the cool kids and claim their rightful place in the streets.
Several months later, a now fourteen-year-old Cortez showed up at one of the free tune-up sessions.
He had come to hang out, but got a look at how BKoB used their love of bikes to give back to the community.
Last spring, he would see what it looked like when the community had his back, when BKoB members showed up to pay their respects to the family and friends of Frederick “Woon” Frazier – killed in a hit-and-run at Manchester and Normandie last April. Although there to call for justice, they wanted to know that Cortez – a friend of Woon’s – was OK, too, and peppered him with questions about his life, school, and his job.
Now 17, Cortez has grown into his bike.
He and his peers have become the youth the young kids along the route look up to and want to be like.
And he and his peers are a big reason those kids feel like they are welcome to participate in the parade.
Things have come full circle.
Which means that, four years from now, this fearless fellow will likely be inspiring the next generation of munchkins to get on bikes that are a little too big for them and to work on their skills.
See more photos from the King Day Parade below, including members of some of the other clubs that are active in South Central.
Source: Streetsblog Los Angeles