The city of Richmond knows itself. We’ve seen it all before — great booms, big busts, the ebb and flow of a diverse community — and learned from our experiences. The only way forward these days is to move with intention in this ever-shrinking world. At East Brother Beer, we take pride in our great city and its storied history and go forward with purpose towards a bright future.
It’s Richmond’s people that steer this ship. An intrepid group of community-builders who are dead-set on a future for Richmond as rich as its past. With Pride and Purpose they build our community and with Pride and Purpose we tell their stories.
The story of Rich City RIDES starts when Najari was four years old. He was living in Brooklyn, and got his first bike—black with red details—and called it KITT. “I grew up in the eighties with Michael Knight and Knight Rider,” Najari says. Eventually, the bike began to break down. First it was the handlebars, then a pedal fell off, then after jumping off a ramp, the seat broke off. Still, Najari kept riding until the other pedal fell off and one of the wheels went flat. The bike ended up sitting in the living room because he didn’t know how to fix it. “It became a coat rest, you know, a living room ornament.” Eventually, his mother threw away the bike.
Najari wouldn’t get on a bike again until he was 17. “My neighbor back in Brooklyn, she said, ‘You know, you spend your whole life trying to get over things that happened to you as a child. There’s a connection between wanting to do bicycle repair workshops and growing up not having a place where I could take my bike to get it fixed.”
He moved to Richmond over ten years ago and started Rich City RIDES in 2012 as a bicycle advocacy space. “I founded Rich City as a way of building community and as a way to get to know people and as a way to celebrate the city,” Najari says. “In addition to celebrating the city, it also has other impacts—health and wellness, activating parks, easing traffic congestion. I didn’t want to be a person who was just living in the city. I wanted to do things where I was living with the city.”
As a bicycle and riding advocate, Najari and his team do more than fix bikes. “We work to make bicycles accessible.” Rich City, which is fiscally supported by a local non-profit called Urban Tilth, hosts weekly workshops, group and family rides, and spearheaded a program called Earn-A-Bike, where young folks in the community can learn how to repair bikes and in turn, earn their own bike plus safety equipment free of charge. Since the program started, Rich City has given over 1,000 kids a bike. Along with the Earn-A-Bike program, Rich City sponsors park cleanups, group rides and bike clubs, and workshops where folks can take apart bikes that would otherwise be unrideable. “We let kids break them apart to see what’s inside. So maybe you can’t fix the wheel but you know how the spokes work and where the ball bearings are.”
Rich City is cooperatively owned, meaning that anyone who wants can work their way towards ownership. Right now, Rich City is owned by Najari, lead mechanic Taye, and retail manager Josue, who Najari met during the early days of Rich City, meeting him at community bike rides and repair workshops. Many of the folks who become involved with Rich City end up meeting one another at events like this, including the monthly East Bay Bike Party.
Najari lights up when he talks about the bike parties, which are 12-15 mile tours that move throughout the East Bay. “It’s literally hundreds of people on different types of bikes,” he says. “As you move through the ride, it’s like changing radio stations. Different folks come to this ride—it’s like different groups that come together to make this big thing.” He’s seen folks become bicycle converts based on these bike parties. “It’s usually after the first ride that people are like, ‘Wow, that was such a great experience! When’s the next one?’”
The Richmond community is what builds and shapes Rich City. Their programming is a direct response to the needs of Richmond’s residents, and Najari hopes to see more people build cooperatives and community-focused businesses. “I’d like less closed store fronts on McDonald,” Najari says. “I want to see all the spaces become activated and see how we can get community members to create those businesses.” And Najari believes that’s possible because he knows his community well. “The people here are very resilient. They have talent and ambition and they know how to take any situation and make something beautiful out of it,” Najari pauses. “They create the purpose and take pride in that.”
With Pride and Purpose,
East Brother Beer Company