September 1, 2010
To really understand the Scraper Bike movement, one must experience it in its element: the turfs of East Oakland. “The Deep East,” as it’s known, is a seemingly endless stretch of inner city, which begins at the east end of Lake Merritt and continues all the way to San Leandro. Like the rest of Oakland, its population is diverse, yet there are more African Americans and Latinos than in other parts of the town.
It’s not uncommon to see graffiti ominously announcing “BB 187” on a wall over a crossed-out Border Brothers tag on a wall. Churches are as numerous as liquor stores. There are plenty of well-maintained single-family homes, along with not so-well-maintained housing projects and apartment complexes. Car culture is big; since homes are generally modest, a clean ride is a source of pride – 22” rims, and sometimes larger, are a status symbol. And shiny Japanese sports cars, big-body American muscle cars abound, as do vans, SUV’s and pick-up trucks.
The Deep East is as pleasant as almost anywhere else in Oakland during the day, especially when there’s sunshine and blue skies. But at night, it’s a different story. Some of the parks where children play during the morning hours aren’t places you want to go at night. In the evening, the violence that comes along with the economic reality of the drug trade is unavoidable. Needless to say, a high percentage of the city’s homicides come out of the East.
This is the environment from which the Scraper Bike movement was born.
Tyrone Stevenson – aka Baybe Champ the Scraper Bike King – founded the Original
Scraper Bike Team about four years ago. Since then, the Scraper Bikes have become a symbol of hope, an unexpected urban entry into the green movement, as well as a way for inner-city youth to do something positive, constructive and creative with their free time.
At 21 years of age, Stevenson is already a seasoned leader, as well as a growing celebrity. The charismatic figurehead of what has already become a world-recognized phenomenon, he’s a good-natured, humble young man who has accepted a heavy responsibility quite nonchalantly.
Stevenson had a big day this past Saturday, when he was scheduled to perform at the back-to-school event at Frank Ogawa Plaza, lead a Scraper Bike ride, then host a festival at Arroyo Viejo Park. Yet any pressure or anxiety he might have felt disappeared behind a large, toothy grin, visible at almost all times.
The Scraper Bikes were supposed to meet at Ogawa at 11 a.m. Saturday. A few riders, including a couple of bike enthusiasts with road bikes and cleated SPD shoes who had scraperized their bikes with custom spokes (made out of beer cans and wood paneling), awaited their arrival for almost an hour.
Just before noon, Stevenson appeared. He made quite an entrance, with the Scraper Bike anthem blasting at high volume from his custom tricycle with a 100-lb. sound system, accompanied by about 10 riders on their Scrapers. Technical difficulties, he explained, were responsible for the delay. The stage at Arroyo Park was late in being set up and some of his riders had lagged. Plus, he had to perform at City Hall.
While the Scraper Bikes team waited for the ride back to the East and Stevenson graciously granted interviews with interested media outlets, city Parks & Rec officials fretted about making sure the riders obeyed public safety. Newly-purchased helmets were given to each rider.
Finally, Stevenson was introduced onstage as a positive role model for youth, after which he performed his hit song, “On the Scene,” flanked by the OSB team. Once that was behind him, it was time to ride.
Punching up some R&B and Michael Jackson tunes into his iPod, Stevenson led the riders down Broadway, over to Laney College and then East. The ride took a winding route on the way to East Oakland. Once the Parks & Rec chaperone had dropped off, the music switched to hardcore rap, its aggressive lyrics and thumping beats providing excellent motivation for cranking the pedals.
On rode the Scrapers, block after block, cruising through Bancroft, Foothill and Avenal avenues. At one point, about 15 youth from the East joined the remnants of the group. Now the group was rolling, 25 deep, through the ‘hood.
The Scraper Bikes were in full effect.
Though traffic was occasionally blocked by the scrapers, none of the drivers became rude or surly. There were no middle fingers, just occasional thumbs-ups, waves, cheers and honks from other vehicles and neighborhood habitants. There was a refueling stop at the Rainbow Rec Center; Vitamin Water was handed out and those who needed it took a bathroom break.
For the most part, the riders maintained a smooth line during the journey, with Stevenson in the lead; occasionally, however, sharp turns or weaving through traffic created a bit of a logjam among the Scraper peloton. Some riders’ chains became loose and at least one rider flipped his bike. Yet everyone arrived at Arroyo Viejo safe and sound.
Once the Scrapers had landed, they were greeted by the sounds of DJ Basta of Roots & Branches, free food and more Vitamin Water and art supplies, both for customizing T-shirts and bicycles. Stevenson jumped into Baybe Champ mode, performing a couple of songs before handing off the mic to upcoming rap duo J-Milli & O-zone – two East Oakland youth leaders who call their music “hood-hop.” Meanwhile, DESI WOME of the Community Rejuvenation Project painted a canvas.
The skies were sunny and so was the mood. It was a good day in East Oakland
(via Eric K Arnold - OaklandLocal.com)