It’s a cold December morning in Marin County, California, and the fog rolling in over Lake Stafford is reminiscent of a low-budget horror movie. This is the fifth and final race in the Bay Area Super Prestige Cyclocross Series, and juniors — riders ages 13 to 18 — are on the course. You’d never know except for the cheering cries as riders appear in and out of the mist.
Nico Sandi is there to encourage his riders. It’s only the third cyclo-cross race for the team he’s coaching, Live In Peace, but you wouldn’t know it. They are doing well and the podium is a definite possibility. But the obstacles they’ve had to overcome to get here aren’t just sand traps and stream crossings.
The cities of Palo Alto and East Palo Alto are physically separated by the length of US Highway 101. But the gap between these two Silicon Valley cities is much bigger than that. While Palo Alto is home to tech giants named Zuckerberg, Jobs, and Page, East Palo Alto was once America’s murder capital. Palo Alto students head to Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford. East Palo Alto students head to, well, that’s a good question.
When Heather Starnes-Logwood founded the Live in Peace organization in East Palo Alto, it was to give the city’s predominantly black and Hispanic youth a future — something many didn’t believe existed for them.
“I wanted to create an overall sense of belonging: ‘I have something to do that feels important to me, and I feel like I’m valued, and I’m adding to a community.’ This is very important for the growth of most people. It feeds the mind with curiosity and ingenuity. It fosters that love of learning, which we know is an indicator of success for young people,” Starnes-Logwood said. Ride a bike.
Live in Peace offers an after-school program where students who are struggling in the classroom can work with tutors. There is also a Gap Year Program for students who are not quite ready for college or wish to learn a trade, as well as a University Initiative Program. Then there’s the bike shop program, which she admits: “We couldn’t find the bike shop. The bike shop found us.
Facebook’s headquarters are in Menlo Park, on the border with East Palo Alto. The company’s free bikes that employees use to get around campus have begun to disappear, and kids in East Palo Alto have been arrested for the thefts. But Facebook didn’t want them to be prosecuted. Instead, he reached out to the community to find a solution. In conjunction with Starnes-Logwood and Live in Peace, the company has made several donations of over 100 bikes to the organization’s emerging bike store. Repaired bikes were donated to the community, eliminating the need for theft, and Facebook made changes to its employee bike program to make it much more difficult for its bikes to be stolen.
Today, the Live in Peace bike shop employs four high school students as apprentice mechanics. They teach repair classes at the shop and at municipal events, providing affordable bike repairs for their community. Students also learn how to organize and lead bike rides, and the organization has partnered with Silicon Valley Bike Exchange, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, Specialized, and REI to create programs for its youth.
“There are pathways,” Starnes-Logwood said. “Some work at REI. One of our kids who is at Tufts works in the bike shop there. You don’t need to be a worker. There are lots of ways to do things you love and get paid for them.
Jaden Avenido, 17, was recently hired by REI. “Before, I was on the street doing things I shouldn’t be doing. One day, I just wanted a place to do my homework, and someone pointed me to Live in Peace. It was more of a package with lots of support for me and not just a place to do my homework,” Avenido said. “I had to learn a certain discipline – no longer to not rely on this place to live, but to use the resources they give you to help you learn to take care of yourself.”
When professional mechanic and racing cyclist Nico Sandi was hired to work at Live in Peace, he started a bicycle racing team with the students. “A lot of our kids were trying to play football, trying to get into the NFL; the chances of doing so are impossible. But the children are sporty, motivated. They want to do something active. So we try to get these kids to go on a bike ride with us. Maybe they want to race,” Sandi said.
“We’re showing them there’s a whole new world out there,” Starnes-Logwood said. “One of the key values of Live in Peace is exposure. The first time we went to a cyclo-cross race, we were the only group with kids and adults of color. People asked, ‘Where are you from?’ The second time we went was, ‘Hey, man, how are you? We were looking for you. The cyclists are very nice and generous. There’s this general spirit in the bike scene, so it’s dispelled the myths of “It’s not for me” or “I can only go certain places.”
“Before that, I used to watch people in these cycling kits ride their bikes down the road and think, ‘What are they doing?’ Since I came here [to Live in Peace], I became addicted to the sport. It was competitive and fun, and I think it’s good for you exercise-wise,” said Avenido, who is looking forward to racing crits.
And its cycling-related programs are growing. “We want Live in Peace to sponsor high school bike clubs. We would take the kids on bike rides and teach them about bike safety and basic bike mechanics. We want to reach more children in the community,” Sandi said.
“We want our kids to feel like it’s theirs. It is that of the community. We cultivated this together. There’s a lot of ownership and a lot of excitement because it’s really grown in our community. It’s like it’s ours,” Starnes-Logwood said.