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West Siders unite for the Build a New Day Austin Peace Ride

7:50 PM CDT on September 21, 2021

The Peace Ride gets read to roll out. Photo: James Porter

Residents of the Austin neighborhood on Chicago's West Side gathered last Saturday morning for the Build a New Day Austin Peace Ride, a group bicycle ride with the goal of promoting public safety and community unity. The event was conceived by BUILD Chicago (Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development), which describes itself as a "gang intervention, violence prevention, and youth development organization."

Although turnout was fairly light when the ride began at noon, those in attendance were enthusiastic. As co-organizer Oboi Reed from the mobility justice nonprofit Equiticity remarked, "we ride with five, or we ride with five thousand, but we will ride."

Alden Bell. Photo: James Porter
Alden Bell. Photo: James Porter
Alden Bell. Photo: James Porter

According to Alden Bell, who coordinates BUILD Chicago's Playstreets initiative, which creates safe spaces for youth to recreate outdoors on streets that have experienced violence, peace is more than a buzzword – it's a way of life. He said BUILD "focuses on young people, violence prevention, outreach, mental health services, offering kids hope in situations that have been neglected in certain ways. We've worked with kids that suffered trauma, to restore hope and give them a brighter future. For this particular ride, we're focusing on peace, and we're offering opportunities for children to have safe activities." The ride was held in conjunction with Community Hope Church, which was hosting another bike ride later that day.

Johntuanay Johnson, outreach and engagement manager at Lyft, the Divvy concessionaire, which provided loaner bikes for the BUILD event, said the ride had been a year in the making. "We just started this program as of last year, and it was implemented starting in August. Our overall goal is to make sure we give the young people a chance, make sure they're being engaged, learning about bike skills, learning how to lead. This whole program's goal is to make sure they were given an opportunity."

BUILD gave out backpacks and water bottles at the event. Photo: James Porter
BUILD gave out backpacks and water bottles at the event. Photo: James Porter
BUILD gave out backpacks and water bottles at the event. Photo: James Porter

Before the Peace Ride took off, Reed gave instructions to the participants about how the procession would roll. Ride marshals were on hand, with some bringing up the rear to make sure no cyclists were left behind. As Reed put it, there was a strict "no drop policy" to make sure that all cyclists stayed together, even those who pedaled slower than others. "Every time we ride, one of the first things we do is a squad huddle...how to communicate verbally to make sure everybody's safe, how to communicate through hand signals, and how to keep the ride 'tight and to the right.'" A SAG vehicle was provided for those who couldn't complete the rides.

According to Reed, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has kept many people at home, "there's this pent-up demand to get some physical exercise, to socialize in a way that's safe." For Reed, the Peace Ride offers the perfect solution. "We're moving through the wind, so the risk of contracting COVID in this setting is minimized." Given the relative paucity of recreational activities during the summer of 2020, there's an urgency to this year's events. The Peace Ride was no exception.

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