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Brittany Young, Founder of B-360, Creates STEM Opportunities with Dirt Bikes

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A rider is a girl who is in it for the long run, someone who will stay with you and who has your back no matter what. Brittany Young is a name that has become closely associated with dirt bike culture in Baltimore—and she’s not a dirt bike rider herself but she is a rider. Young is a Baltimore native, an engineer, and the founder and CEO of B-360, an organization designed to enhance STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, build community engagement, and strengthen the workforce pipeline in Baltimore, all through the beloved pastime of dirt bike riding and maintenance.

Young embodies everything I love about a Baltimore woman: She’s not going to smile for you if she doesn’t want to. She’s from Park Heights and she doesn’t take shit from anybody. When she was a young girl, Young used to ride her bicycle around Druid Hill Park, about ten minutes away from home, listening for the low hum of idling dirt bikes throughout the park and admiring the large, shiny rims on the old-school big body town cars that gathered there. As she grew older, she even snuck away a few times to watch the drag races that occurred on Wabash late at night in her neighborhood.

Young has always had a habit of breaking a rule or two, but now she works tirelessly through her social enterprise B-360 to help reasonably bend the rules that just don’t make sense, like this one: In Baltimore City, it is illegal to operate a dirt bike on public or private property, to possess a dirt bike, an unregistered motorcycle, or a similar vehicle unless it is securely locked or immobilized. It’s also illegal for parents or guardians to allow a minor to operate a dirt bike, and gas stations can’t even legally dispense fuel to dirt bike riders. How do we square these laws with the speed and grace of Baltimore’s 12 o’clock boys and the intergenerational love for this enduring pursuit?

 

A self-described “Bill Nye The Science Guy nerd” who, at age six, singed off her eyebrows with a chemistry set, Young was able to harness her own experimental curiosity into a professional career as an engineer after graduating from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 2007. She had the determination to make sure that Black youth in Baltimore have enough fuel to ride into a brighter future, first by running a STEM program at Baltimore City Community College and teaching technology in city schools, and then by seeing the potential to unite engineering education with Baltimore dirt bike culture, rather than criminalize people who simply want to ride and have fun in their community.

After nearly a decade in engineering, Young founded B-360 in 2016 in order to use dirt bikes as a way to introduce young people to educational and career opportunities in STEM fields, and also to change public perceptions of dirt bike riding, which some view as a menace.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019–29 employment projections show that occupations in the STEM field are expected to grow 8 percent by 2029. With more Black youth steeped in programs within initiatives like B-360, where students learn about the engineering design process, mechanics, robotics, coding, riding safety, and skills training, they are poised to move the needle in a field where white men constitute about half of employed scientists and engineers. The statistics about the lack of women and people of color in STEM are disappointing but not surprising, which is why Young created a new lane with B-360, offering opportunities for youth to engage with 3D-printed model-sized dirt bikes and bike safety events, but also to secure the next generation of possible biochemists, physicists, atmospheric scientists, or motorcycle mechanics. With B-360, the possibilities are endless.

 

The successes of B-360 are quantifiable and expanding. The organization has served more than 7,000 Baltimore youth under the age of 16 and employed 36 former street riders. There has been an 81 percent decrease in dirt bike arrests in Baltimore City with only three dirt bikes confiscated in 2020 compared to 200-plus in 2017. In a press release about B-360’s new partnership with the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office to divert dirt bike riders away from the legal system, the group cites taxpayer savings of $1.3 million by employing those at risk of incarceration. As a result, Young is now a social entrepreneur and innovator, with fellowships from the Open Society Institute and Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab, and an advisory role on Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s transition team. She was named a TED Fellow in 2020, and in 2021, she received the American Motorcyclist Association’s Bessie Stringfield Award, named for the first African-American woman to ride across the United States solo.

Despite so many achievements, Young remains humble. As I talk to her on the phone, she says, “I face challenges like everyone else, and in this house, I’m just Brittany.” We talk about how awards, recognition, and accolades are nice, but as women of color, we are both familiar with the task of seemingly having to jump through fiery hoops to have our ideas, initiatives, and visions seen—and, even harder, funded.

“B-360 was an idea in 2015 which was not only the year of the Freddie Gray uprising but the year I decided to get uncomfortable with fighting for all the wrong things,” Young explains. “I started fighting for change.” At that time, Young was still processing a much earlier loss of her mother, who died of a heart attack when Young was just 18, as well as coping with her younger brother being tried as an adult for nonviolent offenses and going to jail, and caring, with the help of her sisters, for her other brother, Charles, who has Down syndrome.

“All that while I was being published in scholarly research journals and working for big companies,” Young recalls. “I’ve always been living somewhat of a double life. There was that angry little Black girl who fought constantly, but also a passionate scholar. I had to leave those archetypes behind and fuse the two. I have to be able to say I can be professionally angry. I can channel that anger into passion and that passion into love for something greater like dirt bikes and STEM education, and that’s how B-360 was born.”

 

Despite the adversity, Young’s timing was perfect. The Baltimore Corps launched their Elevation Awards around the same time that B-360 was just an idea, and in 2016 Young won that award, providing seed funding and support networks which enabled her to launch the organization in 2017. Young describes accelerator programs like Hopkins’ Social Innovation Lab as “MBA programs on steroids.” When she pitched her ideas to that program, two of the youth in B-360, Daron and Damon, helped with the presentation. “I had no idea what they would say but they came in confidently talking about torque and velocity just as I had taught,” she says proudly.

Additional programs, competitions, grants, and partnerships followed. Young received support from the Warnock Foundation, got involved with Red Bull Amaphiko as a fellow, and then won her first pitch competition, Black Girl Ventures. Next, she applied for an Open Society Institute Fellowship in 2017 and was denied, but national fellowship Echoing Green accepted her. “A lot of people don’t hear about Echoing Green but it really helped me seed B-360,” she says. “I was getting no’s from philanthropy networks right here in my backyard in Baltimore, which is wild.” In 2018, she was accepted to the Open Society Institute, followed by a Camelback Ventures Fellowship in 2019, which provided support for a new business structure and strategy.

2020 was the first year Young did not have to maintain three different jobs while also sustaining B-360. When she first started the organization, Young was putting her own savings into it, but now she is able to focus on multi-year grants, as well as corporate support and sponsorships. “We work with schools a lot, but it would be great not just to have relationships with individual principals but the whole school system,” Young says.

The engineer-turned-teacher, now a social entrepreneur, has learned a lot from the experience of building B-360 into the robust organization it is today and is generous with her advice for others. “Don’t just go after the money, go after the experiences,” she says. “Make sure everything you’re going to be a part of benefits your organization or idea. A challenge for Black people in this line of work is that philanthropists trust us less than white founders and CEOs and make us go through more training and hoops just to get funded. Going through all those programs is to help them trust you, and that’s not okay.”

Considering all of the hours of hard work, research, and networking required to create safe spaces for street riders, as well as opportunities to teach them about careers in STEM fields, Young states how important it is to continue to find joy in the process. For many in Baltimore, dirt bikes represent freedom, culture, and recreation, and Young’s love of science has been a driving force in establishing B-360’s expanding role in STEM education through real-world experiences that unite pleasure and learning.

Instead of condemning dirt bikes, Young has proven that they are an effective gateway into professional careers, many of which do not require a four-year degree and are plentiful in the region. Young’s love for the city of Baltimore, and the strength and comfort she has cultivated for thousands of young people through B-360, is immeasurable.

 

 

Brittany Young with the team at Jazzy Studios

Photography by Aisha Butler of Jazzy Studios

This story is from Issue 11: Comfort,

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