With B-360, Baltimore native Brittany Young has brought an outside-the-box idea to the out-of-system learning space.
B-360 is a Baltimore-based non-profit that engages young people who enjoy riding dirt bikes and supports them in further developing STEM-related skills and accessing career opportunities. After all, fixing a dirt bike involves mechanical engineering, and popping a wheelie is all about physics.
Young is an accomplished engineer; she has programmed nuclear plants, developed medical devices, and planned satellite explorations. By founding B-360, she sought to channel students’ passion for dirt bikes into educational workshops. In Baltimore, as in other cities, riding a dirt bike has been criminalized, so B-360 organizes safe, legal riding events and supports young people with engaging in governmental advocacy. The work is having a positive effect in many respects. In 2020, for instance, there have been eight dirt bike-related arrests, down from 43 in 2017, according to the program’s statistics.
Ultimately, Young is trying to jumpstart opportunity. The percentage of Baltimore residents who live in poverty is twice the national average, and the public schools are stretched to the point where 60 buildings don’t even have air conditioning, “which forces frequent closures in hot weather.” Just as a chemistry set Young received as a child helped her discover her passion for science, B-360 provides another way young people in Baltimore can apply their innate talents.
“We’re tired of seeing stories of Black struggle coming out of Baltimore,” says Young. “B-360 is all about sharing its stories of Black ingenuity.”
Since March 2017, B-360 has served over 7,000 students. B-360 has also connected 36 students and former street riders with career opportunities, many as instructors and mentors in the program, but also as producers of dirt bike showcases and events. Many go on to pursue higher education at Baltimore City College.
Amid COVID-19, Young has sought ways to support children and teenagers who were trying to learn at home while also looking after their siblings.
During the pandemic, B-360 has been able to pivot to a distance-learning model. Its programming has included The Toolbox Series, which is an ongoing virtual speaker series developed to give students of all ages the tools to solve challenging problems. More than 500 students have participated. B-360 has also conducted socially distanced dirt bike clinics, and participated in get out the vote initiatives such as the Baltimore Votes Caravan and the Out for Justice voting public service announcement.
Looking ahead, B-360 does not yet have a building of its own, so a grant from VELA’s Meet the Moment program and its partner, Camelback Ventures, is supporting B-360 in outfitting a 15-passenger van as a mobile hotspot. B-360 participants will apply their mechanical skills to turn a van into an educational resource that could park in front of students’ homes and provide a safe space free of distractions to do their schoolwork. They could also do an activity to support their mental health, like yoga.
Young says her goal is to help students realize the potential that already exists within them.
“We’re matching STEM to the culture and growing the skills that were already there,” she said.