Taylor McCullough, 12, tries some a dirt-bike riding tricks after a B-360 pop-up event at the James McHenry Recreation Center in Baltimore. Brittany Young launched B-360 to help kids get interested in the STEM fields through dirt bikes.
Brittany Young remembers Sundays in West Baltimore as a child, when she’d hear the distinct buzzing and revving of engines. It was the city’s signature soundtrack for the summer, a sound that said: It was dirt bike season.
She would watch, fascinated, as a pack of about 40 predominantly black riders zipped by on their dirt bikes, making their way to the local park — popping wheelies or the well-known 12 o’clock tilt, where they’d pull their bikes upright, nearly vertical in the air. Sometimes police officers would stand nearby, she said, blocking off streets, allowing riders to display their tricks as dozens watched.
“[I] didn’t see it as a safety concern or a nuisance,” said Young, 29. “I always thought it was cool.”
The dirt bikers were local celebrities. They were also talented mechanics, known to fix their bikes and fine-tune the sound of their engines. But as Young got older, she learned how complicated and dangerous the pastime could be. Some bikers sped through crowded streets, causing accidents and deaths. Bikers were labeled dangers to society. Riding a dirt bike on a Baltimore street was eventually outlawed.
Still, in the city long considered the capital of dirt bike culture, the sport endures. And Young, an elementary school technology instructor and former chemical engineer, is tapping into that love as a platform for something bigger. Through her grant-funded B-360 program, Young is using bike culture to introduce more black children to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. At the same time, she hopes to decrease street riding in
Baltimore and to challenge the negative perception of this popular hobby.
Her initiative comes as officials here and in other cities consider developing dirt bike parks, and as Baltimore awaits its appearance in a dirt bike feature film from executive producer Will Smith.
“People think that an engineer looks a certain way, and then people think a dirt bike rider is a certain type of person,” said Young, noting that black people are underrepresented in STEM fields. According to a 2018 report by the Pew Research Center, black people account for 11 percent of the U.S. workforce overall but represent only 7 percent of STEM workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
“I work with kids who want to be both. . . . How do we change the narrative around who they want to be, and where they want to go?”
Young launched B-360 in March 2017, recruiting from local elementary schools and hosting STEM-focused workshops on 3-D printing, laser cutting and polymer making. She enlisted experienced dirt bikers, ages 16 to 50, to teach students about riding safely with helmets and gear, and about the inner workings of dirt bikes and their ties to STEM. The name, B-360, means “be” the “revolution” — “the gears and wheels turning on a dirt bike, the mind-set shift with perception change, and community centric models to work better together.”
Despite a lack of funding and space, Young has expanded her program with pop-up “dirt bike clinics” at local events. She’s worked with more than 3,000 students and has sought to engage residents, police and dirt bikers in community forums.
As program manager for the Baltimore City Community College STEM Scholars Program, Young said, it’s tough getting students to see STEM as a real career option — which is where B-360 comes in.
Daron Harrell, 12, of the city’s Park Heights area, began riding dirt bikes at 6, but had not thought about being an engineer until he met Young, a technology instructor at his middle school. She taught him about 3-D printing and making “slime” — polymers similar to those in plastics used in dirt bikes — from glue, contact solution, baking soda and food coloring.
Now, Daron aspires to ride and be an engineer who builds bikes.
“I want to program them, so I can have my own dirt bikes to ride,” he said. “Instead of spending money . . . I can just make them.”
Baltimore Councilman Leon F. Pinkett III, who represents areas of West Baltimore popular with dirt bikers, said the program turns a “nuisance activity” into “something that can provide educational benefits and potential training for other pursuits.”
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