Hero of the Deep: Rich Brown

Last month, Program Director Rich Brown was honored as a Hero of the Deep at a Seattle Kraken home game by the Kraken Unity Fund. The Fund honors inspiring individuals who are doing outstanding work to transform lives, enable resiliency, and uplift and unite communities across the Pacific Northwest. As part of this honor, the Seattle Kraken and OneRoof Foundation donated $32,000 to support Bike Works programs.

At Bike Works

At Bike Works, Rich has designed and led biking, mechanic, and advocacy programs to engage youth in the community with a focus on racial equity. These programs are held at public schools in South Seattle like Rainier Beach and South Shore K-8, onsite at Bike Works in Columbia City, and across the county and state for longer distance rides. They also provide unique and creative opportunities for young people to build skills, connect with adult mentors who look like them, get to know their neighborhoods, practice environmental stewardship, and organize around issues that are important to them.

Port Community Action Committee (PCAT)

Rich is also a founding member of the Port Community Action Committee (PCAT), a community group that partners with the Port of Seattle to address local concerns, health issues, and disparities in neighborhoods that are affected by pollution of the Duwamish River such as South Park and Georgetown. Their goals are to work towards a healthy environment, economic prosperity & place (for example, creating jobs and resources so that BIPOC folks are not priced out of their communities due to gentrification), and community resiliency and capacity building.

the beginnings

Initially, Rich first started his career in the private sector, earning a business degree and working in tech. He ultimately found this career unfulfilling, and ended up teaching tech and media at the University of Washington School of Social Work, pairing his vocational expertise with his passion for community. After that, he moved from the university to the nonprofit sector, teaching tech to youth in South Seattle (some of these students also went through Bike Works programs!) He took time off to travel and focus on music (Rich is an accomplished trumpet player and DJ) and through a series of connections, took a job in the biking department at REI.

“Biking offers so many intersections like accessibility, mobility, and equitable access to infrastructure (we have a huge lack of that in South Seattle).”

growing up with bikes

As a kid, Rich had loved cycling and racing BMX, but had stopped due to a lack of diversity, representation, and overt racism he experienced in the scene. It was enough to make him decide to quit biking at the time. The job at REI resparked his passion for biking, and he was able to find a more organic and supportive community of cyclists. Rich reflects on what drew him to cycling, “Biking offers so many intersections like accessibility, mobility, and equitable access to infrastructure (we have a huge lack of that in South Seattle).” This circuitous path led Rich to center the bicycle in his youth development, advocacy, and community-building efforts, which he has now been engaged in for nearly a decade.

Rich had been a team leader in what was then Seattle’s “Bike to Work Day” challenge for several years. During that time, he met Ed Ewing, who is today Bike Works’ Executive Director. Ed was leading the Major Taylor Project at Cascade Bicycle Club, a school-based cycling program designed to engage Black and Brown students in bike desert neighborhoods in South Seattle. Ed and Rich exchanged numbers.

bicycle safety and taking action

Shortly after that, a young person in Rich’s community was hit by a car biking on Airport Way. He survived, but the incident sparked community conversations about safety, and Rich’s neighbors turned to him for leadership as an outspoken cyclist. Rich reached out to Ed for advice and decided to take action by bringing the community together and raising awareness in a positive way.

“If I see an opportunity, or I can help somebody or I have access to something, I plug people in!”

Rich and his community hosted a helmet giveaway and bike safety rodeo to focus on safety skills. Rich reflects on the event, “If I see an opportunity, or I can help somebody or I have access to something, I plug people in!”

the major taylor project

This event was a huge success, and Rich thanked Ed for his council. Sometime later, Ed reached out to Rich to ask if he would be interested in joining the Major Taylor Project as a ride leader. He eventually joined full-time and ended up managing the program for a couple of years. Now, years later, Rich and Ed are still working together to promote cycling in South Seattle, engage community members, and address racial and other types of disparities.

Over the last decade, Rich’s work has addressed intersections of race, transit, recreation, safety, and environmentalism through an organic network of relationships. If you see Rich around, please give him a huge congratulations as a prominent community leader paving the way for future generations to come!