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Ensuring a Voice for Youth: Belmont Cragin Youth Leadership Council

In 2013, the League released “Engaging Youth In Bicycle Advocacy”, a case study on why youth bike and youth involvement in bicycle advocacy. A lot of the obstacles to youth engagement noted in the study, like a lack of bike accessibility and a disconnect between adults and youth when it comes to leadership, are still prevalent today. Many organizations, including the League itself, can better educate themselves on how to not only get more youth involved in biking but make sure young bicyclists feel recognized as an integral part of the bicycling movement. 

As part of that work to listen, learn, and collaborate, we endeavored to hear from organizations made for youth and/or guided by youth to best answer the question of how to do this. In a continuing series, we’ll learn more about these groups and their answers. Today, meet Belmont Cragin Youth Leadership Council, a “safe, positive, consistent space for students to grow as young organizers, receive academic and emotional support, and make meaningful peer connections” based in Northwest Side of Chicago, IL. The group was recently featured in an Active Transportation Alliance publication article (shared below).


 

A Victory for Local Youth Bike Advocates

When a fellow member of the Belmont Cragin Youth Leadership Council broke a collarbone because he was “doored” by a driver while riding his bike, members of the youth council were upset and decided to act. 

They knew that a lack of good bike lanes contributed to dangerous dooring incidents. With this knowledge in hand, they started on a journey to make their community a safer place to bike. 

Two years later, their diligence has paid off as the city committed to building 17 miles of bike lanes in Northwest Side neighborhoods of Belmont Cragin and Hermosa. 

A recent article about the youth’s efforts in the Chicago Sun-Times explained how the council members relentlessly lobbied local leaders and gathered support from residents. The youth insisted on meetings with city, state and federal elected officials, explaining to them that bike lanes enhance public safety while offering a healthy transportation option for local residents.  

The youth talked with neighbors by going door to door in Belmont Cragin and they testified at the Chicago Transit Authority’s board meetings. The local alderman was skeptical of their requests initially, but came around thanks to their persistent efforts. 

The youth council — which is part of the Northwest Side Housing Center — also worked with Active Trans to organize biking events and meet with public officials. 

In August, new bike lanes started appearing in the Northwest Side neighborhood (see page 5 for more about the current bike lane expansion in Chicago).

Youth Leadership Council member Zair Menjivar told the Sun-Times: “We never thought we would get green freshly painted bike lanes in our neighborhood, and to see that is really shocking. This is a testament to all the hard work we put in.”

This year, 18-year-old Menjivar was the youngest recipient of the City of Chicago’s Mayoral Medal of Honor. He was recognized for this work to improve transportation in his community, as well as distributing food to community members in need during the pandemic shutdown. 

What would you like to see other groups, especially national organizations, doing to involve more youth in cycling?

“From our experience, Youth want to ride a bike but can’t afford one. Maybe figuring out more ways for non-profit organizations to help get more money to buy bikes for youth who want to ride. One way we can get more recognized is to bring bikers to the table when it comes to decision making and not just make us an afterthought”

 Did you know #BikeSummit22 offers free attendance for youth? At next year’s National Bike Summit there are many choices that need to be made about how the bike movement can shape the future for the next generation, from climate change to racial equity, and we want every voice involved. Learn more and register now at bikeleague.org/summit!


If you’re a youth group or cycling organization interested in sharing your tips for involving more youth in cycling, reach out to us at [email protected]. We would love to hear from you!

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