Brittany Young’s a native of West Baltimore who, after spending her life watching kids ride dirt bikes in the city, saw more than youth chasing an adrenaline rush. She saw children and young adults who possessed knowledge applicable to science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
In 2017 she launched the nonprofit B360, which helps connect that passion for dirt biking to opportunities in STEM education. B360 recently joined with two other black led Baltimore nonprofits, I Am Mentality and TheBee.org to launch the Baltimore Legacy Builders Collective.
The collective’s goals include providing 100 hours of training and transferable skills, and empowerment to 1,300 youth and young adults in the Baltimore metro area over the next year.
She spoke with The Daily Record as part of a series of interviews aimed at continuing the conversations started during the newspaper’s “Young, Black, Homegrown and Leading in Baltimore” webinar. The interview below has been edited for clarity and space.
The Daily Record: Tell us about the moment when you realized, watching young people ride dirt bikes, “They already have this knowledge applicable (STEM).” Was it instantaneous or did it dawn on you over time?
Brittany Young: So I think just starting with being from Baltimore, like our sound of summer is dirt bikes … and so I was always like a dirt bike kid, but I fell too many times, and that was not for me. Because I don’t like to fall.
I used to watch “Bill Nye the Science Guy” also, and I was one of those kids who liked to get into (trouble), and so I was bored in school. I was doing experiments like blowing things up like stink bombs. I blew my eyebrows off, and I always had my desk next to the principal’s office.
But every Sunday in Baltimore, I would go with my cousins and my uncles to watch the riders at Druid Hill Park, and so really where the spark to do B360 came a lot later.
In 2015, this is following the Freddie Gray uprising … Then the same year — if it wasn’t 2015 it was 2016 — there were two reports showing how Baltimore can move forward following Freddie Gray.
So one showed the city had over 120,000 STEM careers that could move communities like mine out of poverty, and create upward mobility … and then others showed that we were increasing policing.
So I have no problems with the police. I have problems with policy. I think a lot of times, especially in black and brown neighborhoods, we have oppositional (relationships with) police because of policies.
I found that dirt bikes in Baltimore can be a misdemeanor for possession, and that’s what B360 was sparked from was two problems.
I noticed the need to better connect people, specifically black people, to the booming STEM industry. (Particularly) people from here to generate talent, and keep that talent, and harness what we already have, a lot of kids just like me, and people who have these skills, but who are often seen as just seen nuisances.
And then the second problem is really focused on how we build skills, but also those dialogues, and positive conversations (so) that we’re not just incarcerating people for nonviolent offenses.
I think right now in the world we’re seeing the effects of that. A lot of uprisings have happened all throughout the country … but if we had a more proactive approach, and actually pouring (resources) into black communities, and helping undo some of those systems, like we’re doing with B360, we can really reach more people faster, and also have better relationships with police, and government, and re-imagine what that space to looks like.
TDR: If you were to meet someone that knew nothing about the city, how would you describe it to them? And how does your experiences as a Black woman shape that view?
How I describe Baltimore, is as a booming place that, yes, has problems, but each problem has so many unique, and great solutions, and so many people that are thinkers.
There are so many people that have been doing work for years that don’t get acknowledgement that have been, in their own right, reforming and reshaping their communities.
Like some people think about Uber, for example, and in Baltimore that’s hacks (drivers operating as unlicensed cabs). We’ve been doing hacking from before I was even born, and the only difference between an Uber and a hack is technology integration.
So I see Baltimore as really on the precipice of finally, as black individuals in the city, getting our shine, and our right to exist (recognized).
My grandmothers both came from rural Virginia, and Baltimore was a promised land for them to leave a legacy. For them moving to Baltimore meant they escaped the sharecropping of the South, (and reached) a place where they could grow their own wealth.
I just wish more people would talk about the Baltimore that I know … while we created redlining, yes, we also led the Industrial Revolution. We had the most free black people at one time in this city.
It’s really, for me, just a place where I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I wear my accent with pride. I wear my neighborhood with pride, and I’m proud to be an ambassador of the city whenever I go to other places.
TDR: When people talk about Baltimore, and it’s in a negative connotation, how much do you think the city is roughly 63% Black plays into how that discussion is held?
Young: I think you hit it on the head, right. What people forget is at one point Baltimore was a predominately white city, and a lot of the issues that we see are because when the city became more black it got disinvested in.
So, again, with red lining, unfair housing, we (deal with) the remnants of what I call the crack and opioid epidemics … so west Baltimore also has middle-class Black families, but it has blight, too, because the state does not give Baltimore money to invest, and a lot of money does not trickle into the ‘Black Butterfly’ (a term coined by Morgan State Professor Lawrence Brown to describe the city’s geographic racial divides).
So the ‘White L’ (another of Brown’s terms) is booming, and I can read reports that show that Baltimore can be one of the most dangerous cities, but I also see (reports where) Baltimore’s one of the coolest (cities).
It’s that tale of two cities right there, and so I think being a predominantly Black city, we’re also one of the last predominantly Black cities, it’s like what, us and Detroit, possibly a little bit of Atlanta. So it’s that last fight to maintain ourselves.
What I always want people to think about is for a lot of generations before me, we always lived in this city, and have boomed, and the Black Renaissance was right down on Pennsylvania Avenue, and we have not given cities, and communities, (their) diligence and justice by investment.
So (Paul Laurence) Dunbar and (Frederick) Douglass (high schools) have been around just as long as the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, which I’m a proud alum, but what happened with those two schools was that we have not poured in enough funds to keep them growing. We’re not putting enough love into those communities. What we see is the results.
We just need to keep giving back to these black organizations and black people because it’s time, and a lot is due to us.