CHICAGO — During the 2020 pandemic, Maxine Aguilar’s friend, who is trans and Black, got their bike stolen. They needed the bike to work but didn’t have money to replace it.
Aguilar, who was working at a bike shop on the North Side, stepped up to help. Customers donated used bikes to the shop, but they needed repairs and just sat in the garage. So Aguilar crowdfunded money to buy parts, repaired a used bike and gave it to their friend.
“They were experiencing a myriad of challenges,” said Aguilar, who is also trans and Black. “I can see how just having a bike can help them have access to employment and transportation and other things that they were disfranchised by.”
That prompted Aguilar, who just graduated from college and returned to Chicago this year, to start the Black Transport Project. The initiative gives away bikes to Black trans people in the Chicago area.
Eligible people who do not have a bike can apply for a free one through this form. They will enter a raffle system, and matched applicants will be paired with a bike that fits their size.
Aguilar, who grew up on the South Side, has been interested in bikes for five years, work at bike shops over the summer until they had to go back to school in the fall.
But Aguilar noticed a lack of Black trans representation in the biking industry, caused by a lack of accessibility to bikes, they said. Not everybody is able to afford a bike or afford to repair a bike, Aguilar said.
Aguilar got their first bike for free through a volunteer program, they said. Their co-workers give them old wheels or used parts they no longer need, materials that are essential for Aguilar to maintain their bike, they said.
“I’ve been very inspired by that energy around me,” Aguilar said. “That’s what inspired me to start this initiative two years ago.”
Aguilar started the campaign during protests in 2020, when various forms of mutual aid and grassroots organizing were gaining more attention. Aguilar posted about the Black Transport Project on Instagram on Juneteen and raised about $300 — enough money to fix four or five bikes, they said.
Aguilar also used the money to buy helmets and U-locks for people in need of them.
Aguilar gave away about five bikes each summer after that, but they weren’t able to keep up with the demand because of financial constraints.
But Aguilar recently received a donation of $20,000 from Safe Bike Chicago. With that funding, Aguilar hopes to be able to help many more people.
In addition to repairing bikes, Aguilar also plans to allow applicants to choose bikes that cost up to $350 from Working Bikes, a shop that provides community members with affordable refurbished bikes.
“In the past, I only had one bike for each size,” Aguilar said. “It will give them a little bit of agency now when they can choose from hundreds of bikes.”
Aguilar said they chose to focus on Black trans people because they have a harder time accessing public transportation.
It is an issue that Black people face at large due to a long history of segregation and a lack of investment in their communities, Aguilar said.
“Even the number of train lines that run through the neighborhood is completely different in a Black area versus a white area,” Aguilar said. “So having a bike can make a huge difference if you can’t rely on transportation around you.”
Aguilar said trans people also face an additional layer of disfranchisement, as they usually need to leave home younger and grow up faster. Because discrimination and harassment happen frequently at work, a lot of Black trans people would rather choose to do a gig-type delivery job so they can be more independent, they said.
In the future, Aguilar said they would love to expand the reach of the program if the funding allows it.
You can support Aguilar’s initiative through this link.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: