Joby Suender is a simple man. He loves his city, his sport, and the winding journey of his life much like the streets of Philadelphia. But none of it seems to compare to his passion for giving back to his community. Very few people have the pleasure of blending work, fun, and social empowerment but Suender is lucky to call all three his own. As the founder of Philadelphia organization BMXlife, Suender mentors at-risk youth through BMX and bike safety.
As busy as Suender is, I was unable to secure a phone interview with him and we instead opted to chat about his organization via email. Though a different dynamic, Suender’s spirit of goodwill still shines through in his words. The story of BMXlife is one that stems from the city streets; on bike paths and in neighborhoods, touching the lives of local kids and families.
“The concept for BMXlife organically came about,” writes Suender, “The idea developed with a little help from my friend Steve Tassone while we were closing out on filming for the Chocolate Truck DVD.”
The Chocolate Truck videos, which can be found on YouTube, are a collection of sharply shot BMX demos featuring riders and neighborhood kids alike landing tail whips and sharing laughs.
“Our experiences throughout the city often had a common theme,” says Suender. The videos are all fun and games but Suender explains an even greater bond between he and the neighborhood kids.
“Our crew of riders would show up at a spot, possibly piss some neighbors off and maybe get some bad vibes. When younger kids from the block would see us, they were instantly attracted to our bikes and the riding. We'd let the kids ride our bikes or help them learn how to if they couldn’t ride already.”
Suender saw an instant connection here.
“If people on the block weren't initially feeling the group of guys that just rolled into their hood, they were cool with us once we let the kids ride and they saw how hyped the kids were on BMX. This positive interaction with youth in the community was always the instant hood pass.”
Suender became increasingly involved in nonprofit work to bring his love of BMX to the kids of Philadelphia. As an intern at the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC) Suender met Mel Wells, President of nonprofit One Day at a Time (ODAAT).
ODAAT is dedicated to serving low-income families and the homeless of Philadelphia, focusing on drug and alcohol rehabilitation, ex-offender employment programs, as well as HIV/AIDS awareness and testing. After pitching his idea of a free youth BMX program, Suender and Wells found a common interest and goal towards getting BMXlife off the ground and on the streets of Philly.
“It has been awesome to be able to work on the BMXlife program as my first real job right out of school while I work at ODAAT,” says Suender, “…BMX is all about community and these kids get it. It’s also an awesome feeling to see how proud the kids are when they learn something new and want to show me, or have me take a video of them riding to send to their moms.”
Managing a nonprofit is a lot of work but Suender has fond memories to keep him going. He explains how the program is based in low income, high risk neighborhoods, and how difficult it is for the community to contribute donations. Many kids come from broken families or single parent households; some have never even had anyone to teach them how to ride a bike.
But Suender never lets this get him down. In fact, it’s the very reason he is here—to help.
“The most important thing I want people to know about the BMXlife program is that it offers at risk youth an outlet to grow in a positive direction and opens them up to many new opportunities and interests,” says Suender.
At his core, BMX is not only what’s introduced Suender to nonprofit work; its shaped him into the person he is today. Suender explains how riding has sparked a sense of exploration, travel and creativity in him; attributes that he strives to bring to the at-risk youth of his city.
Halfway through the interview questions I ask Suender a personal inquiry: What would you like to be remembered for?
His answer is straightforward, honest, and the shortest one of the interview.
“Helping others in need, getting kids on bikes, and knowing the streets and cuts of Philadelphia better than anyone else,” he says.
City, sport, the journey of life and those alongside him for the ride. Like I said, Suender is a simple man, a man with a mission bigger than Philadelphia, even bigger than BMX. BMXlife ensures a positive future for kids both on and off the bike.
Written by Eric Gasa