Teaching unity and community using bikes, cardboard, and a little spray paint

FLINT, Michigan -- For approximately 10 years, a summer staple in the Fairfield Village neighborhood in Flint has been a “Silly Bike Ride.” Resident Andy Ellard would get together with neighborhood kids, help them decorate their bikes, and then do an informal one-mile ride through the neighborhood.


That tradition, like many others this year, had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But some last-minute grant funding combined with unseasonably warm November weather allowed Ellard and a group of local artists to organize a modified version of the event November 8 in the parking lot of the old Farmers Market on Chavez Drive near downtown.


“Somebody came to me about a month ago and said we have some funding to help out with the bike parade, but it was late in the year and I didn’t know about the weather,” Ellard said. “I got a hold of Kady (Yellow, Flint’s director of placemaking), and it grew out of that.”


Ellard and a group of local artists, parents, and community leaders got together with a small group of kids to help them paint their bikes and design cardboard cutouts of fish, sharks, cheetahs, and other creatures. After the workshop, the cardboard pieces were then attached to the bikes, and kids did a Silly Bike Parade in the parking lot.


“It’s about engagement with the kids and getting them outside,” Ellard said. “We want to try and make this an annual event.”


Several community partners stepped up to help support the event. The Greater Flint Arts Council provided some funding, the Flint Public Art Project donated paint, and Webcor donated cardboard for the project.


Ellard is originally from Flint and moved back to the city after retiring. He wanted to get involved by helping give kids something to do. He provides bikes -- approximately 25-30 per year -- to kids who do cleanup projects in the neighborhood.


“Bikes are really like freedom for kids,” Ellard said. “Plus, this gives them an artistic outlet, and riding the bikes keeps them active.”


Interacting with kids is also a way for him to stay connected with the neighborhood and teach them important skills.


“This allows me to get to know the kids in the neighborhood,” he said. “Kids don’t always get along, but the bikes bring them together. When I’m with them, I try to talk to them about unity and protecting each other and looking out for each other.”


Ellard is always looking for ways to engage kids in creative ways -- he helped kids paint garbage cans in the neighborhood over the summer with the support of grant funds, and let neighborhood kids paint and repaint a piece of fence he had in his yard. “They probably painted both sides of that fence at least 10 times,” he said. “I talk to the kids about things they want to do, because kids always come up with the coolest ideas.”


Ellard’s personality also factors into the activities, though, and he’s happy to go out and find funding and partners to make activities come to life.


“I call it people supporting my childish behavior,” he laughs. “But it’s really about creating engagement for the kids.”

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.