Fender Bender a key cog to what the CCCC is all about

October 22, 2011

DETROIT -- As the reality of the Cass Corridor Community Commons builds around the framework of social justice in Detroit in the halls of the First Universalist Unitarian Church where EMEAC’s offices are now housed, it’s only fitting that there be an organization like Fender Bender which is dedicated to bending society’s the rules while mending what’s broken be squarely in the mix.

So it is that the group of female bicycle mechanics founded by Sarah Sidelko ride into the fray on their mission of promoting gender equity, environmental
sustainability and healthy lifestyles all around the love of cycling.

Fender Bender's Sarah Sidelko talks with EMEAC youth
during a tour of the Motor City Brewery during the
Gardening Activism Media and Education summer camp
“When you are not given access to do things, you don’t even know how much you might love it and how that can actually transform your life later,” Sidelko said. “For me, getting involved in building bicycles gave me a sense of confidence. It gave me a sense of power and ableness in my life to go out and do things. It made me feel like I was strong and that I could carry things at home on my own. It’s really simple and basic things that other people may not think of as a challenge or obstacle every day in being a woman.”

Sidelko has taken that sense of empowerment and become only one of a handful of licensed female brewers in all of the United States. When she’s not plying her trade at the Motor City Brewry just around the corner from the CCCC, she and her fellow Fender Benders are busy giving bicycle repair and maintenance workshops, group rides or educating others on the virtues of cycling with a special outreach to the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) community.

“Fender Bender is a group of female bicycle mechanics who currently do bicycle mechanic training currently with people from the LGBQT community,” Sidelko said. “We do have programming that is accessible to everyone during events and bike rides.

“We’ve been asked to do bicycle trainings around workshops, but we like to do trainings around women and the LGBQT community so that they can have a safe and nurturing space where we can have a space to work on bikes and learn mechanic skills and just engage with things such as tools and mechanics where as women we might not necessarily feel we were able or allowed because of these stereo typical set of rules we are kind of born into.”

Fender Bender’s mission of empowerment does extend to the broader Detroit community around the principle of social justice. The group has worked with EMEAC in the past around quality of life and environmental justice issues during EMEAC’s initial Gardening Activism Media and Education summer camp where young people got a tour of the Motor City Brewery to learn how beer is made and a demonstration of the group’s smoothie bike to demonstrate the conjunction of healthy eating and healthy living.

“We want to promote projects and activities that are about the uplifting and the empowerment of Detroit and its residents,” Sidelko said. “We like things that are about the engagement of people on a face-to-face one-to-one level. We like activities that promote exercising our bodies and going on rides, and things that help us really connect with one another every day. We also want to get at some of the racial things that go on underneath because even in something like cycling where everybody has a common ground that all people can connect on, we sometimes have all these other barriers that prevent us from connecting in our lives.

“I was organizing a biker auction and I thought (about the smoothie bike), ‘Wow what a cool way to use these interactive pieces. It’s a great way to introduce environmental issues, social issues and quality of life issues. In a lot of countries where people don’t have all these advanced technologies, people really do have to come up with some very practical ways of processing their foods. Whether it’s coffee grinders, corn huskers and water irrigation systems, there are all these different ways to use pedal power. It could be like your brake from gardening. There are no emissions. There are no waste. It’s powered by old bicycles and uses vegetables from your garden to replenish yourself with things that are actually nourishing.”

All in all, Sidelko’s Fender Bender mission and goals have put them on the path to be in alignment with the mission of the Cass Corridor Community Commons.

“We are honored and feel really grateful to be invited into a presence like that where people are able to work together for something sustainable and really have each other’s back,” she said. “It’s good to work around people that will help you get yourself back up again whether it’s emotionally or physically. It’s great to be able to work with other groups of people around those over arching principles of social justice.

“(EMEAC) is doing it on all these other different levels like food and gardening and we learn a lot from each other about how all these things come together. You realize that in many ways the work we do is not so separate.”