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New Equity Report: Engaging Youth

It’s been more than two years, but one unfortgettable moment from the 2011 Safe Routes to School National Conference is still etched in my mind. Only two speakers at that event earned a standing ovation. For former Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar the crowd stood out of honor and gratitude. For Kimberly White, the audience shot out of their seats with sheer awe and inspiration.

A Recycle-A-Bicycle intern and organizer of the first Youth Bike Summit, White described her evolution from passively accepting injustices in her low-income neighborhood to discovering bicycling as a vehicle for environmental activism and personal transformation. Given the crowd of educators and officials, White didn’t shy away from one key point: Adults too often discount the intellect and ideas of youth.

Since then, the energy and momentum behind the annual Youth Bike Summit and organizations like Recycle-A-Bicycle have continued to grow — and, as the League convened our Equity Advisory Council (EAC) this time last year, we recognized the critical need to include the voices of youth. We were honored that another Youth Bike Summit keynote and stand-out, Devlynn Chen (pictured), a New York City native and now a freshman at Dickinson College, joined the EAC.

It became clear very quickly that we had a lot to learn about effectively engaging youth in our work. Our blindspots were glaring — including scheduling conference calls at a time when Chen, then a high-school senior, was still in class! So, over the summer, Chen worked with the League on a project-based, six-week, paid internship to help us better understand what motivates youth to ride and how to engage them in advocacy. 

The result? A new report, authored by Chen, on “Engaging Youth in Bicycle Advocacy.” Click here to download the report — and read the introduction below.

Recently, the League of American Bicyclists has researched and created reports on motivations and obstacles that women and people of color face when it comes to biking. While the League has a growing array of information and statistics regarding women and people of color on bicycles, it currently lacks information on youth biking.

My internship’s goals were to research the motivations and obstacles of youth biking and to identify ways to engage youth in bicycling advocacy.

As part of League’s Equity Advisory Council (EAC), I am the youth voice. I try to give the members of the EAC a different perspective. But the challenge being on the EAC has been that not everyone on the EAC had experience with working with youth. Therefore, they could not communicate appropriately. My study was to generate a survey to help adults in these situations by making a list of suggestions to deal with young adults in a work environment.

My motivation to start bicycling grew from having a not-so-busy summer. Local Spokes was a promise of a fun summer of biking all over the Lower East Side. Local Spokes introduced me to the different aspects of advocacy that led me to the EAC. First it was just learning about my cause. Then it built my enthusiasm for biking, which spurred my participation with Recycle-A-Bicycle’s Youth Bike Summit.

Local Spokes is a coalition of nine community organizations based in the Chinatown and Lower East Side neighborhoods in New York City. Local Spokes advocates for biking, biking infrastructure and affordable housing. For the past three summers, Local Spokes has organized a Local Spokes Youth Ambassadors Program, engaging NYC high school students who live or go to school in the neighborhood. These Youth Ambassadors (YA) meet up twice per week for six weeks in the summer to learn about biking, biking advocacy and the advocacy topics of the nine community organizations.

For my internship, I worked with the YA as a case study. I created a two-part survey that involved answering questions about their motivations for riding and any obstacles that inhibit their riding. In addition to the survey, YA were guided through a series of discussions that led to the forming of a list of rules for adults on how to engage teens in an advocacy conversation.

Click here to download the report.