Mutual Aid Collaborative Launches Safe Cycling Project
By Zeki Salah, Mutual Aid Collaborative Facilitator
On April 14 at 6:15 am, Juliet Jones received a call from her son and was surprised to hear a police officer on the other end of the line. He asked if she knew a man named Julien Jones. When she replied that Julien was her son, the officer notified her that he had been hit by a car while riding a bike to work and was on his way to the emergency room.
Julien resided in North Chicago and did not have an affordable way to get to work, leading him to use a bicycle and become seriously injured in his accident. When Juliet first saw Julien after his accident, he was bruised, unconscious, and required a cranial operation. She nearly fainted after hearing the news. Julien was in the hospital for three weeks, from April 19 – May 2. Then from May 2 – May 23, 2022, Julien received inpatient therapy at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab. He is out of the hospital now but sustained a traumatic brain injury.
Juliet, a 2021 Chicago Peace Fellow, reflected on the accident that affected her son and wondered what would have happened if Julien had worn a helmet. The thought of averting similar tragedies motivated her to launch a Safe Cycling project through the Chicago Peace Fellows Mutual Aid Collaborative. Regarding her decision to begin the project, Juliet stated:
Violence is violence. A traffic accident or bike accident are not the same as gun violence, but those accidents are violent and traumatic and I want to do something about that.
Juliet and her organization, the Original Sixty Fourth Street Beach Drummers, Inc., are now working with the Mutual Aid Collaborative to distribute helmets throughout Chicago. The Mutual Aid Collaborative consists of 60 Black and Brown leaders and committed allies who live and work in the communities they serve on the South and West sides. They have raised over $100,000 to support several active projects, including the Safe Cycling project. The Mutual Aid Collaborative met and collaboratively voted in May to fund the Safe Cycling project and their effort to purchase helmets and distribute them to communities around Chicago.
The Safe Cycling project focuses its resources on the South and West Sides of Chicago and aims to partner with community leaders to help distribute helmets. Their first event was at the 27th Ward Community Day on August 27. Juliet found a table at the Community Day by messaging Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr., who she had previously met through her time as a Chicago Peace Fellow.
At the Community Day, Juliet was able to hand out 55 helmets:
People were really excited and surprised they could get a helmet for free. Some people were on roller skates, some people were on motor scooters, and they all got helmets.
Juliet also brought other safe cycling activists to the community day by contacting the Chicago Department of Transportation’s SAFE Ambassadors program. Though the SAFE Ambassadors typically work with schools to provide bicycle safety programs, Juliet reached them and discovered they also do other community-based events. Together, both the Safe Cycling project and SAFE Ambassadors made sure everyone at the event interested in receiving a helmet got one. Juliet was ecstatic with their partnership and spoke about how the two tables complemented one another: “When the SAFE Ambassadors didn’t have helmets that fit, they sent people to my table because I bought helmets of all sizes.”
On September 17, the Safe Cycling project partnered with Margaret’s Village to offer helmets to residents of South Chicago. Margaret’s Village is a shelter that provides transitional housing for homeless women, children, and families. Juliet connected with the organization through her work doing HIV education and testing at a social services agency. She spoke with Angela Hicks, Executive Director of Margaret’s Village, and offered for the Safe Cycling program and SAFE Ambassadors to attend their annual Peace Fair. The Peace Fair, a block party that offers violence prevention programming, was an ideal venue to provide bike safety materials and education. When Angela accepted her offer, Juliet organized another table for the Safe Cycling project and gave away 28 helmets and other cycling accessories.
The future of the Safe Cycling project will bring even more collaborations between organizations to distribute helmets in their communities. So far, Juliet has used a range of connections to bring helmets and bike safety instructions to the South and West Sides. She hopes that in the future, she can find even more collaborators and bring more attention to the project. Juliet would like to continue expanding the Safe Cycling project to host an annual event. Through creating grassroots networks with the help of the Mutual Aid Collaborative, the Safe Cycling project has brought needed helmets, bikes, and other resources to people who lacked them. Their work together has played a part in creating safer and healthier communities in Chicago.