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Light Up Lawndale Holiday Ride brightens the season on the West Side

Some of the participants had lights on their spokes. Photo: Cameron Bolton

There were plenty of Santa hats on the ride. Photo: Cameron Bolton

Boxing Out Negativity, a North Lawndale-based organization that teaches youth life skills through boxing, held its third annual Christmas ride last Saturday. The event is one of the group's three yearly bike rides, alongside the Biking Out Negative ride and the Street Love Ride. The Light Up Lawndale Holiday Ride was presented by the mobility justice nonprofit Equiticity, which teamed up with Boxing Out Negativity and several other partners to deliver a safe and fun winter bike riding experience.

"Today was about coming together as a community, giving back, and changing the norms of what our children see in this community and giving them something to look up to and have them be a part of," said Derek Brown, head coach and founder of Boxing Out Negativity.

Everyone was invited to attend, regardless of whether they were naughty or nice this year, including those who live outside of Lawndale. For instance, one of the riders there was Michael O'Leary, who resides on the Southwest Side. He previously volunteered at the YMEN North Lawndale Bike Box, a pop-up bike shop at 13th and Pulaski, which is where he heard about this community bike ride.

Some of the participants had lights on their spokes. Photo: Cameron Bolton

Brown arrived at the ride's starting point at Franklin Park, 4320 W. 15th St., with several members of the youth outreach program. Like many of the young people, Brown was wearing a Santa hat. However, he explained that he wasn't dressed like jolly old St. Nick. Instead, he was dressed as his more health-conscious alter ego. "Just to show and connect the youth to something that's positive, give them something to look up to and look forward to."

Olatunji Oboi Reed, the president and CEO of Equiticity, arrived at the event on a bike towing a sound system playing holiday music. Reed was the one who over the safety guidelines for the bike ride, such as the hand signals he, Brown, and the others leading the ride would be using. Pointing to the right meant they were going right. Pointing to the left meant they were going left. A raised fist in the air meant they were stopping.

"We do two types of stops," said Reed. "We do a brief stop, like stopping at a stop sign, stopping at a red light, or we do a mass up. A mass up is an extended stop."

One of the mass ups on the bike ride around Lawndale was at Pro Image Cutz, a barbershop that's located directly across the street from Boxing Out Negativity. The business filters a lot of youth into the boxing program. 

Pro Image Cutz barbershop. Photo: Cameron Bolton
Pro Image Cutz barbershop. Photo: Cameron Bolton
Pro Image Cutz barbershop. Photo: Cameron Bolton

"Guys and gangs from beyond the corner come to the barbershop to get their haircut, and what the barbers will do, they'll give them a positive conversation and point them across the street to Boxing Out Negativity," said Brown. "So we decided to collaborate."

Ride participants dropped off presents at the barbershop as part of a toy giveaway. While there, those on the Christmas ride also had the opportunity to come in from the cold to enjoy some hot chili.

The ride's final destination was at Douglas and Homan for Light the Boulevard. That was a community event with a giant tent where people could warm up with hot chocolate. There were also tables with books and toys for people to peruse.

The tent at Light Up the Boulevard. Photo: Cameron Bolton

"Light the Boulevard was about the community coming out, and of course, we're on the boulevard, and everybody sees lights all downtown," said Brown. "They got to go down to the zoo or go places they can't afford. So the thing was to come together and put lights up on the trees, and they're going to light all the trees up [later tonight]".

Boxing Out Negativity team member King Messiah said he didn't have his own bike to use on the ride, but the organization provided one. Messiah said they showed up to celebrate and put good vibes out into the world. "I'm in my hometown, in my neighborhood," they said. "It feels good to know that you're being cared about where you live."

"The bike ride's always amazing," Brown said. "When we ride, people come out of their houses to wave. [Drivers] blow horns. People block traffic for us. And it's as something simple as riding bikes. It's something that the community doesn't see often, so they support it with open arms."

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