For me, summer means one thing: Bike Shop at South Street Ministries. Bike Shop was my first step into south Street Ministries over a decade ago through my Eagle Scout Project. (South Street has had a long and treasured connection to the Boy Scouts). Years later, when I returned to Akron, Bike Shop was the first program I began to volunteer with, and when I started on staff with South Street, I found that the Bike Shop program was (and still is) grant-writing gold.
The model is simple enough, South Street receives donated bikes. The Bikes are repaired by the neighborhood kids alongside caring, Christian, adult volunteers. The kids receive their bikes when they complete a set number of hours based on their age. So kids learn how to fix and maintain their own bikes AND earn a bike in the process.
At least that is the theory. The reality of Bike Shop follows the above model, with the appearance of organized chaos, 25+ kids working on bike simultaneously asking for help, and the occasional theft or fight. I remember one stressful night a few years ago when a neighborhood skirmish passed through the bike shop. We had to close the program early and call the police. By the time they arrived the squabble had moved elsewhere, but quite a few kids were upset that the few ruined the night for the many.
We had the police at Bike Shop last night too. Although they arrived on time and came to help with the program. Three Akron Police Department Officers in uniform spent their Monday night fixing chains, repairing flat-tires, and talking with kids. Generally at Bike Shop, kids come to me with concerns and repairs, I then have to direct them to one of the other adults present for help. A young girl (13) asked me for help with her chain and I pointed her to one of the officers who had a moment of downtime, she paused, so I walked over and introduced her, and they proceeded to repair her bike together.
I write the above narrative very aware of the black and blue dynamic in our country. I am not simplistically absolving the heinous acts of some officers of the law in light of the good done by many. Nor am I writing a fluff piece to puff up the perception of the APD. I write to share a witness to what God is doing at South Street and why I value it deeply:
- Unlikely Partners — Within South Street’s mission is the idea of Unlikely Partners people from different worlds coming together to work towards advancing God’s Kingdom. Last night at Bike Shop represented that dynamic to me. There was a myriad of community leaders coming together to help kids repair bikes and talk with them throughout their time together.
- Akron’s Finest — Remember that term? As I have talked with police officers about some of the nation-wide dynamics around policing and #blacklivesmatter, one of the consistent themes I hear from them is the lament over the loss of the prestige of the position. ‘Being a cop used to mean something…’ I hear them say. I saw Akron’s finest last night. Three were cops. Two were neighborhood mothers checking out a new program. 4 0r 5 were South Street volunteers from around the greater Akron area. 2 were neighborhood kids stepping into leadership at South Street for the summer. And 25 were some of the finest, funniest, best kids I know.
- Walking Humbly — There are needed conversations in this country — How and why and who we police? What a return to community policing looks like? The definitions of protecting and serving? All centered around dynamics of race and class. I am not submitting this blog as one of those conversations, but I will say this — what I appreciated about the officers at Bike Shop last night was their service. They came and fixed bikes. They didn’t patrol the site to make sure kids weren’t stealing. They left discipline issues to be handled by the staff. They were humble in their presence at Bike Shop. The verse Micah 6:8 has become a tagline for many churches concerning issues of justice. I would encourage folks to learn from the last stanza ‘walking humbly with your God.’ Humility has served me very well as I approach these very conversations with neighbors, leaders, friends, civic officials, and others.
Grace & Peace