‘Street Love Ride’ promotes peace in Lawndale
The annual bike ride will pass hot spots of gang activity in an effort to have riders and bystanders form better associations with sometimes precarious corners.
Look for a caravan of cyclists on the West Side Saturday wearing some extra-visible accessories: balloons fashioned like a trailing blaze of fire.
The balloons help make riders more visible, but, more importantly, foster the welcoming air organizers want.
“It’s all about just spreading love and unity as we ride through the two neighborhoods, Little Village and Lawndale,” said Theodore Thompson, the man behind the balloons.
The route for the annual Street Love Ride will pass hot spots of gang activity in North and South Lawndale to give riders and bystanders positive experiences as they pass sometimes troublesome corners. It has been organized by the local youth empowerment organization Boxing Out Negativity since 2020.
This year’s ride comes when homicides and shootings are still above pre-pandemic levels and are up in South Lawndale since last year. The two West Side community areas are among the city’s top priority spots to reduce violence.
The 9-mile loop will leave from St. Agatha Catholic Church at 7 p.m., covering an area bounded by Albany Avenue to the east, 26th Street to the south, Kildare Avenue to the west and Roosevelt Road to the north, before returning to the church at 3147 W. Douglas Blvd. Organizers are encouraging participants to register for the free event online.
As many as 400 riders have participated in the past, Boxing Out Negativity and ride founder Derek Brown said, and even police have joined. Thompson decorated squad cars with balloons to let people know they joined in support.
Brown said volunteers from his organization will protect riders by blocking cars from crossing the route, and a bike repair vehicle will follow in case riders need mechanical support.
Those who don’t have bikes can borrow one of the 100 Divvy bikes provided by Lyft for the event or one of the 40 Brown’s organization will provide. After 4 p.m., there will be a free bike tune-up station and a live DJ at the church.
Bystanders welcome the spectacle of riders wearing the thousands of balloons fashioned by hand, Brown said.
“Instead of people throwing up gang signs when we come past, they throw a unity fist, they throw a peace sign,” Brown said.
Organizers said they hope even gang members they pass will be inspired to join someday.
“If you’re rejecting youth that are getting involved in gangs, how do you expect them to do anything different?” asked volunteer Julie Globokar.
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.