Reginald “RB” Burnette Jr.
Library Aide; President, the Original Scraper Bike Team, Oakland Public Library
AA, Culinary Arts, Laney College, Oakland, 2010
Growing up in East Oakland, says Burnette, “It was a tough time to be black male, and I was lucky enough to be influenced by peers who were in biking”
Photo by Dino Graniello
Senior Library Assistant; Manager, 81st Avenue Branch, Oakland Public Library
BA, Community Studies, University of California at Santa Cruz, 2003
Propernick has also worked for nonprofit organizations focused on social justice. At the 81st Avenue Branch, he started a job club, meal program, Zumba class, and digital multimedia instruction for youth
Photo by Nguyen Ngoc Thien
Wheels of Change
When Reginald Burnette Jr. was in third grade, one of his grandfathers gave him a bicycle. “He would work on his car and do an oil change, and…I would do a tire change [on my bike],” says Burnette, who has a degree in culinary arts and goes by “Chef Boy RB” or just RB.
As an adult, Burnette has put his cycling know-how to work mentoring youth living in the toughest neighborhoods of East Oakland. In this area, there are only two bicycle repair shops—both set up by Burnette and Anthony Propernick in two branches of the Oakland Public Library (OPL). According to Jamie Turbak, OPL associate director who nominated the duo, prior to May 2014 kids in East Oakland had to pedal 30–80 blocks to reach a commercial bike shop. With half the households earning less than $30,000, many rode with broken brakes and other damaged parts and no helmets.
Also an avid cyclist, Propernick manages the 81st Avenue Branch Library, a joint public/school facility that has been home to weekly basic bike clinics since 2014. Bike repair services help OPL attract youth who wouldn’t normally come to the library, Propernick says. “We are reaching a group in our community in a new way…that is relevant to them and values them by addressing their needs and interests…. Once they’re here, we can build relationships and offer other services.”
Working with OPL administrators, Propernick and Burnette found grants to pay for tools and parts, including free helmets. Between 20 and 40 youths attend the clinics. More than 500 bikes have been repaired and 1,000 flats fixed, Turbak says. Burnette, who is also president of the Original Scraper Bike Team, a community-oriented group that works with kids 12–18 to repair, decorate, and customize their bicycles, joined the 81st Avenue Branch in December 2014.
Scraper team members are required to attend school, maintain grades, and give back to the cycling world.
In 2016, when the Scraper Bike Team lost its rent-free space, Propernick and Burnette drew on their community connections to set up the Shed, a youth-run bike shop, in a 20-foot-long shipping container behind the Martin Luther King Jr. Branch. Burnette recruits and manages a cadre of Scraper Bike volunteers at both sites.
“What better job can you have than to be of service to this community?” Burnette says. “You can help these kids and give them an outlet [to] get out of [the] dangerous environment they live in.”