Do you want to help?

February 12, 2021 § 16 Comments

John Jones III runs the East Side Riders bike club based in Watts, California. It’s a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation dedicated to improving the lives of Watts residents. Since the pandemic broke out, ESR has served over 135,000 meals to people facing food insecurity in South Los Angeles. Wherever the need is greatest, whether riding to homeless encampments to hand out food or helping kids spend their after-school hours constructively, that’s where John is most likely to be found.

But he can’t be everywhere. ESR’s core mission is improving the community through bikes, and Watts has a single bike shop to serve its 44,000 residents. That bike shop does its best but operates on a shoestring.

ESR is now working to raise funds–$7,000 to be exact–to purchase an e-bike, a trailer, and the tools necessary to have a mobile bike shop available to serve residents. I hope you’ll do two things. One, read the interview with John so that you can better understand him and his mission. Two, go to his website and make a donation for the mobile bike shop in any amount. When you donate, write “mobile bike shop” in the comment section.

I’ve promised John to raise the $7,000 by the end of the month by soliciting donations here. If there is a shortfall, whether of $7 or $7,000, I’ve pledged to cover it out of my own pocket. The work that he does in Watts is important and deserves engagement, and the ability to help residents with low-cost, mobile bike repair is one additional step to putting more people on the streets using a healthy, efficient, safe mode of transportation: The bike!

I’ve participated in ESR’s rides to feed the homeless, I’ve joined in at the annual barbecue, and I’ve made flapjacks for the free breakfasts served to the community. ESR is real. What they do is real. The impact they have is real.

Here’s the interview:

Seth Davidson: What are the biggest structural barriers to positive change in Watts?

John Jones: Space for the new small non-profits that are really making a difference and leading the way. We can’t always be heard because we’re on the move, including ESR. The bigger ones have the space, and the new groups don’t have a set place because we’re borrowing space so we can’t settle down and dig in. We’re too worried whether we’re going to be in the same place next month, can we still operate where there is a limited amount of space? The solution is a funder who can lease/buy a property and build so all the non-profits can work under one roof. The funder gets more bang for its buck, which means better ideas because we’re all working together. To buy and build out that kind of space from scratch would cost $1-$2M. The impact on the community is so much greater than the investment if we’re talking about long-term solutions.

Seth Davidson: What are ESR’s top three needs today?

John Jones: 1) Secure funding 2) Secure a permanent home 3) Hire staff. And we are trying to raise funds for a mobile bike shop.

Seth Davidson: Why do you need a mobile bike shop?

John Jones: To activate the whole AAA-style assistance for bikes program. Give someone the ability with a flat to call and get the mobile shop out there to help. The mobile shop doesn’t have to be in a vehicle. An e-bike pulling the tools to change a flat or pulling whatever you need for a quick tune-up, brakes, chain repair. It’s important for Watts, and as a model to have someone come to you, to employ people, and to give kids training. There’s no such thing as bike mechanic school. You pick it up at a younger age, learn about bikes, how to repair them, and it makes you employable. A young person can go to an established bike shop and say, “I’m a mechanic,” and he’s suddenly employable in a way he wouldn’t have been.

Seth Davidson: Why is Watts left out of district planning decisions?

John Jones: We’re small in area but we have over 44,000 people counted here. We are always left out because the people here don’t vote and often don’t believe in the voting system. The elected don’t see voting results from the community so they go with projects where they get the most votes because they’re going up for election again and need people to remember “I’m taking care of you.” You put your time where you’re gonna get results. You’ll see that in the district, what’s going on in the southern part versus northern part and that’s why.

Seth Davidson: How can white people be involved in Watts issues?

John Jones: That’s the hard part. It goes back to trust. You have to believe in and trust someone. You have to believe the words. Think about the abuse Latinos and immigrants took over the last four years, if their families would even be able to stay here. That’s a trust issue. Black folks have been dealing with it for years. What are you really here for? To really help? To throw some dollars so you can pat yourself on the back? Or just feel better about yourself? You tell blacks you care, that you have money, they may listen but not believe you, and that’s what’s been done here in Watts for years. Folks who say they care and when it comes down to it they don’t really care, just getting a tax write-off or showing what they did for a pat on the back, folks who want to say they want to help the African-American community, throw a few dollars this way to say they help. You have to be here for the long term, to care about this community long term.

Seth Davidson: How has George Floyd changed ESR’s work?

John Jones: Thinking about that situation, well, we still do the same work we always do, we didn’t go out of our way to say we’re fighting for the BLM movement because we’re a multi-cultural organization, we believe in all human rights and we’d like to progress and move on with conflicts. What happened with George Floyd was this. We heard the cries of the community, we saw the rest of the country, communities riot and burn themselves down, well, we had that in ’92 and ’65 and are still struggling to get back to where we were. Watts wanted peaceful protests, marches, prayer, we just wanted to do our part letting people know that if you’re going to protest, protest in peace. That’s what helped, our voice in the community showing how we feel by peaceful protest in this community.

Seth Davidson: What is ESR’s relationship with Black History Month?

John Jones: Every year, since ESR’s founders are black, we make sure we highlight these 28 or 29 days, we try to put up history people don’t know, recent history, what’s happening now and not in the textbooks. That’s our part of giving black history to the community. It gives us a platform to showcase our organization and what we’re doing, Black History Month and Latino History Month, we go out of our way to recognize the good that comes out of these communities.

Seth Davidson: What is ESR’s relationship with LACBC and other clubs?

John Jones: LACBC has had a lot of change. We’ve had good relationships in the past. With covid not too much conversation with them. We went in with them on an e-bike grant, but it seems like other bike clubs see us as competition when in fact there’s no competition. We’re all in this for the same reasons. We want safer cycling and safer streets and we all have the love for bikes. South LA and Watts, one community of bikes, one cause—fighting for safer streets and the right to be out and enjoy ourselves.

Seth Davidson: What issues do cyclists have with secure bike parking in Watts?

John Jones: That goes again to lack of space and education about cycling. If more people understood that it can help them through cycling around the community, we just need more education because not only is space limited, I don’t even think we have any public bike lockers. Maybe now that Metro is building a bike hub? That’s in Willowbrook, maybe Rosa Parks Station. It’s a couple of miles away.

Seth Davidson: How has ESR changed lives in Watts?

John Jones: We think we change lives by not only getting people to ride bikes but by secretly helping them exercise more even if they aren’t aware of it at first. They’re improving quality of life by cycling. They don’t see it at the moment but they see it when they quit or see it as they’re riding. One guy was size 48 and now he’s 40-42. Even though we have a high turnover, you know you made an impact for the window that they were around. People keep in touch and want to remain part of the organization.

Seth Davidson: How has ESR changed perceptions of bicycling in Watts?

John Jones: Thirteen years ago talking to folks they laughed at us and thought I was a crazy dude; now most of the people who were laughing at those meetings they come, volunteer, ask us the needs of the community and safer streets. We made our mark in Los Angeles, Watts, and the county to improve cycling.

Seth Davidson: Has ESR helped keep kids out of gangs?

John Jones: I would say so. We get kids at that vulnerable age when they have that choice to make, it’s unfortunate that that is a choice they can make. And now there are no sports to play, basketball, football, baseball, and so now they see they can still ride a bike. We bought some bikes and started a program, those golden after-school hours 2:30-5:00 when kids get in the most trouble, we have them here working on bikes, riding through the community. Do I wish we could get more kids involved? Yes.

Seth Davidson: What do you do when you meet a kid who wants to race bikes?

John Jones: We had a program with LAPD at the velodrome, with the Bahati Foundation and Gideon Massie. We were taking kids from Watts and Gideon was training the kids. That’s the only time we had a glimpse of putting kids onto the track. Other times we take kids there and show them the velodrome and tell them there’s a possibility for a pro career in cycling.

Seth Davidson: What do white people need to know about racism?

John Jones: One, that it’s real. You got to always recognize the problem to fix the problem. Two, don’t hide behind it. Just know there are people who really, really fear being picked out, folks that have a real fear of being singled out or bullied. For example, people who think it’s a joke to celebrate Black History Month, that’s a form of racism and a form of bullying. Someone should be able to be proud of where they’re from and their heritage. We are all people and we all need to come together to fix this problem here in America. We have to have these conversations if we want to improve this country.

Seth Davidson: What do white people need to know about Watts?

John Jones: It’s not a scary place to come to. It’s people who really need help but they need to be trained with that help and not just get a handout. They need to be helped to have skills so they can live the rest of their life. You have to want to be here for the long haul, to trust the community. Watts is a gem that needs to be shined so the world can see how beautiful it is.

Seth Davidson: How did your mom influence your life’s work?

John Jones: As kids a lot of stuff we’re doing right now, feeding the hungry, backpacks for school, Christmas events, my mom used to do in our front yard, backyard, driveway, she’d send us to places to grab stuff and bring it back. She taught us work ethic and to put others first. That’s something I chose to do. I could be anywhere but would that be fulfilling? What I’m doing now is fulfilling. If I can live out my mom’s legacy that she taught me growing up, I wouldn’t change it for a million or a billion dollars. When I was talking about giving up the club, my son said we’re rich because of what we give back to others, this was coming from a nine-year-old, while we were on Section 8 housing and food stamps. He didn’t know that but he understood we were rich for what we did for other people.

Seth Davidson: How did bicycles change your relationship with your father?

John Jones: I didn’t have my dad growing up. He was in and out of prison, he was a former gang member, I didn’t have much interaction. Whenever he came home we called it “on vacation” because his real home was prison, we’d enjoy our time and something would happen and off he’d go again. My mom finally told him to get his stuff together, he went to church, made his life change, and one day came to me with this idea about this bike club. I didn’t see it as an opportunity to build a relationship with my father, but as time went by I saw it as an opportunity to teach him, learn from him, spend time with him, teach him things he didn’t know because he was in prison, teaching my father how to live life and love one another. Sometimes I don’t want to get up in the morning but I think, “My dad can do it, so can I.” Maybe sometimes it’s just a couple of hours together but I’m still learning from him, and him from me and it gives us time to bond as father and son.

———————-

John’s work is meaningful, real, and it makes the world a better place. Donate here. Please.

END

Talk + Walk

August 19, 2019 § 8 Comments

The All Clubs BBQ and 7th Annual South Bay Cycling Awards finished last night.

It was fun.

The organizing was a lot of hard work, done mostly by Kristie and Ken. I stood around a bunch.

There were a lot of good connections made along with exceptional live music, the best barbecue anywhere, and a dazzling, shiny show of glittering low rider bikes.

Upwards of 400 people came and went throughout the day, with 300 plates of barbecue and sides dished up by the Flawless Diamonds.

There was so much going on and there were so many people to talk about that I’m kind of overwhelmed; I really don’t know where to start. So I figured I’d jump in and begin and see where it led.

Last year we met John Jones and the East Side Riders Bicycle Club. John came to the BBQ last year and won the award for Greatest Advocate. His club focuses on giving kids healthy lifestyle choices, everything from diet to cycling to community service. Once a month they tour Watts on bikes and hand out food to homeless people, or to anyone who’s hungry.

John invited me to his annual club picnic last month at Ted Watkins Park, and that event re-connected me with Will Holloway, founder of the South L.A. Real Riderz, whom I had met last year at an event at Jesse Owens Park. One thing led to another and I ended up doing one of John’s rides, touring Watts and helping distribute food and water on a boiling hot day.

The ESR folks came to our BBQ and Awards this year and hosted a bike show. The bikes were beautiful, but what was more beautiful was the number of people who got to connect with John’s group and their powerful mission. If John got paid per smile generated, he’d have been able to retire after yesterday.

This is the basic building block of the All Clubs BBQ and South Bay Cycling Awards: Create opportunities for people who never cross paths to stop, say hello, get to know each other, and commune over great food.

A lot of people judge events by numbers. How many attendees, how many plates of food, how much money it cost–not to mention how many people swore they’d show up and didn’t. But actually, the only number you really need is 2, which is how many people it takes to forge a new connection. If you put something together that connects two like-minded people, you’ve thrown the biggest event of the year.

Coming to this event was a huge effort for ESR and for the bike show participants. Some of the bikes, such as G-Man’s extraordinary green machine, weigh well over 200 pounds and have to be trailered. Loading, driving LA weekend freeway traffic, unloading, and then packing it all back up is a huge commitment and an expense.

Yet making those efforts is what it takes, and now it’s our turn to return the favor by making the effort to get off our butts and attend the amazing events that get thrown in John’s corner of LA. Whether it was Henry, OG, John Jr., or the rest of the East Side Riders who showed up in force and with energy, they were showing us how to do it right. With goodwill, effort, commitment, follow through, and open hearts.

When’s the last time you went to a barbecue, bike show, and award ceremony … and got all of that?

END

Photos taken by ESR!


Talk + Walk

August 19, 2019 § 8 Comments

The All Clubs BBQ and 7th Annual South Bay Cycling Awards finished last night.

It was fun.

The organizing was a lot of hard work, done mostly by Kristie and Ken. I stood around a bunch.

There were a lot of good connections made along with exceptional live music, the best barbecue anywhere, and a dazzling, shiny show of glittering low rider bikes.

Upwards of 400 people came and went throughout the day, with 300 plates of barbecue and sides dished up by the Flawless Diamonds.

There was so much going on and there were so many people to talk about that I’m kind of overwhelmed; I really don’t know where to start. So I figured I’d jump in and begin and see where it led.

Last year we met John Jones and the East Side Riders Bicycle Club. John came to the BBQ last year and won the award for Greatest Advocate. His club focuses on giving kids healthy lifestyle choices, everything from diet to cycling to community service. Once a month they tour Watts on bikes and hand out food to homeless people, or to anyone who’s hungry.

John invited me to his annual club picnic last month at Ted Watkins Park, and that event re-connected me with Will Holloway, founder of the South L.A. Real Riderz, whom I had met last year at an event at Jesse Owens Park. One thing led to another and I ended up doing one of John’s rides, touring Watts and helping distribute food and water on a boiling hot day.

The ESR folks came to our BBQ and Awards this year and hosted a bike show. The bikes were beautiful, but what was more beautiful was the number of people who got to connect with John’s group and their powerful mission. If John got paid per smile generated, he’d have been able to retire after yesterday.

This is the basic building block of the All Clubs BBQ and South Bay Cycling Awards: Create opportunities for people who never cross paths to stop, say hello, get to know each other, and commune over great food.

A lot of people judge events by numbers. How many attendees, how many plates of food, how much money it cost–not to mention how many people swore they’d show up and didn’t. But actually, the only number you really need is 2, which is how many people it takes to forge a new connection. If you put something together that connects two like-minded people, you’ve thrown the biggest event of the year.

Coming to this event was a huge effort for ESR and for the bike show participants. Some of the bikes, such as G-Man’s extraordinary green machine, weigh well over 200 pounds and have to be trailered. Loading, driving LA weekend freeway traffic, unloading, and then packing it all back up is a huge commitment and an expense.

Yet making those efforts is what it takes, and now it’s our turn to return the favor by making the effort to get off our butts and attend the amazing events that get thrown in John’s corner of LA. Whether it was Henry, OG, John Jr., or the rest of the East Side Riders who showed up in force and with energy, they were showing us how to do it right. With goodwill, effort, commitment, follow through, and open hearts.

When’s the last time you went to a barbecue, bike show, and award ceremony … and got all of that?

END

Photos taken by ESR!


East Side Riders Appreciation Day

July 20, 2019 § 7 Comments

We went over to Ted Watkins Park this morning in Watts, after I’d spent three hours pedaling around the South Bay and getting pulled over by a police. The police was a PVE police, but he was all right. “You gotta stop at stop signs,” he said, which was pretty fair.

The event started at 10:00 but John Jones and his crew had been at it since 6:00 AM, setting up tents, grill, cooking area, and staking out the space on which they were going to hold the event. Ted Watkins Park is a very nice park. When we got there we passed a soccer field jammed with a women’s soccer team that was going full tilt. When we left the park, the field was still jammed.

East Side Riders does more than appreciate its members and supporters. Even when they are thanking folks, they are lending a helping hand. I met a homeless kid named Davion and we talked for a long time. He was hungry and like several other people at the event, even though he wasn’t affiliated with them he was welcomed, fed, and made to feel like a part of the family. It’s a beautiful vibe, I can tell you that.

We ate burgers, hot dogs, chicken, and watermelon, and we sat around and jawed. They had a domino table set up and man, if you don’t have domino game, you had better not sit down there. It was serious business.

I got to meet JP of Los Riderz. He teaches kids how to make bikes. From scratch. “Our goal is to give kids an alternative to gangs,” he said. “We teach them how to do the welding. Kids love it.”

I also got to hang out with Will Holloway, the founder and big boss of S. O L. A REAL RYDAS, along with his lieutenants Henry and Gee-Man. Will, like John Jones, has a vision for making communities stronger through bicycles. “People have to get out of where they are comfortable and meet other people,” he said. “The bike wheels make a rotation, and that rotation, going round and round, is what brings us together. You gotta keep the rotation going.”

I also got to meet Chicken Man and the Brothers of Color, another low rider bike club. People were so damned friendly. Of course I told everyone about the All Clubs BBQ and South Bay Cycling Awards on August 18, and a bunch of them are going to make it.

The only problem with the event was me. I tire out at parties and picnics pretty quick, and after four hours I was toast … and when I was turning into a pumpkin the rest of the party was just getting started. Kids’ games, more celebrations, serious fun. Before we left, John held the award ceremony and recognized people for their contributions over the past year. Yasuko and I got an award, and I only made about a 50% fool of myself. The plaque is beautiful and going on my dresser.

After almost forty years of competitive cycling, it’s eye-opening to start understanding how diverse and complex the fabric of our cycling community is, so far beyond the “race around in your underwear” scene. It’s easy to fixate on your own backyard and the Big Group Ride, but hanging out with people who are using bikes as a way to change lives is pretty danged rewarding.


END

East Side Riders Appreciation Day

July 20, 2019 § 7 Comments

We went over to Ted Watkins Park this morning in Watts, after I’d spent three hours pedaling around the South Bay and getting pulled over by a police. The police was a PVE police, but he was all right. “You gotta stop at stop signs,” he said, which was pretty fair.

The event started at 10:00 but John Jones and his crew had been at it since 6:00 AM, setting up tents, grill, cooking area, and staking out the space on which they were going to hold the event. Ted Watkins Park is a very nice park. When we got there we passed a soccer field jammed with a women’s soccer team that was going full tilt. When we left the park, the field was still jammed.

East Side Riders does more than appreciate its members and supporters. Even when they are thanking folks, they are lending a helping hand. I met a homeless kid named Davion and we talked for a long time. He was hungry and like several other people at the event, even though he wasn’t affiliated with them he was welcomed, fed, and made to feel like a part of the family. It’s a beautiful vibe, I can tell you that.

We ate burgers, hot dogs, chicken, and watermelon, and we sat around and jawed. They had a domino table set up and man, if you don’t have domino game, you had better not sit down there. It was serious business.

I got to meet JP of Los Riderz. He teaches kids how to make bikes. From scratch. “Our goal is to give kids an alternative to gangs,” he said. “We teach them how to do the welding. Kids love it.”

I also got to hang out with Will Holloway, the founder and big boss of S. O L. A REAL RYDAS, along with his lieutenants Henry and Gee-Man. Will, like John Jones, has a vision for making communities stronger through bicycles. “People have to get out of where they are comfortable and meet other people,” he said. “The bike wheels make a rotation, and that rotation, going round and round, is what brings us together. You gotta keep the rotation going.”

I also got to meet Chicken Man and the Brothers of Color, another low rider bike club. People were so damned friendly. Of course I told everyone about the All Clubs BBQ and South Bay Cycling Awards on August 18, and a bunch of them are going to make it.

The only problem with the event was me. I tire out at parties and picnics pretty quick, and after four hours I was toast … and when I was turning into a pumpkin the rest of the party was just getting started. Kids’ games, more celebrations, serious fun. Before we left, John held the award ceremony and recognized people for their contributions over the past year. Yasuko and I got an award, and I only made about a 50% fool of myself. The plaque is beautiful and going on my dresser.

After almost forty years of competitive cycling, it’s eye-opening to start understanding how diverse and complex the fabric of our cycling community is, so far beyond the “race around in your underwear” scene. It’s easy to fixate on your own backyard and the Big Group Ride, but hanging out with people who are using bikes as a way to change lives is pretty danged rewarding.


END

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