The extraordinary of the 'ordinary'
There are ordinary people doing extraordinary things all around us. Everyday, right in our very own communities. Local residents whose deeds silently ripple through the community. Those multiple hat wearing, rad women somehow manage to find the time to go the extra mile and change the lives of those around us. In the city of Chicago, Dr. Lindsay Knight is one of those people. Whether it's a teenage kid in Chicago's South Side neighborhood or a woman tipping her toes into cycling, chances are they will come across Knight's friendly help. Through her work at Blackstone Bicycle Works a small, youth-centric non-profit that has used the bicycle as a learning tool and ultimately has a huge impact on the lives of underserved youth. Knight founded and managed a multitude of initiatives that provide educational and vocational opportunities to some of Chicago's most underserved youth through a hands-on bicycle mechanics curriculum. Knight continuing her rad-ness recently obtained her Ph.D in Political Science at the University of Chicago, is an avid cyclocross racer and serves as a Rapha women's ambassador.
Instructor. PhD. Advisory Board Member. Mentor. Rapha Women's Ambassador. CX Racer for TenSpeed Hero. Year round commuter.
Tell us about what you do?
I'm a History Instructor and Advisor at Hansberry College Prep in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the far South Side of Chicago. Prior to this role, I was completing my PhD in Political Science at the University of Chicago and running academic and vocational programming and coaching a kids' cx team at a youth non-profit (Blackstone Bicycle Works) on the South Side.
I'm also an Advisory Board Member for SXSWedu, a mentor in the Women in Public Service Program at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, a Rapha Women's Ambassador, and I race cyclocross for Ten Speed Hero.
What did you want to be growing up?
I was a fairly consistent, and oddly stubborn child [laughing]. So, prior to the age of 8, I wanted to be a submarine captain. Then, I decided paleontology was the route for me. Then a feisty community librarian sent me home with the Patricia Cornwell series when I was 12, and I was in love with forensic anthropology well into high school as a result. I signed up for a summer class in 'Forensics' at UW - Oshkosh when I was in middle school...and it ended up having to do with speeches and debate...and not dead bodies. I swear, there's never been a more disappointed 13 year old.
What was your path to political Theory (science) like? How did you get started?
I'd always been interested in philosophy and politics, so when I went to college those were some of the first classes I was really excited to take. I started taking graduate seminars my 2nd year of college in these topical areas (don't read brilliance into this it's a *super* common practice at the UofC), and the rest is sort of history. I ended up in a PhD program a year after I finished undergrad.
What are some of the most challenging aspects of the work you're doing now?
Maintaining patience and energy. Working with adolescents is incredibly rewarding. I love it because it's right at that age when they start coming into being as autonomous, thoughtful, entertaining people. However, it's also super taxing because part of this phase also involves them (continually) pushing every possible boundary to determine what that independence, identity, and freedom actually means for their daily lives. This all becomes even more challenging when the kids you're working with don't live in a safe environment or don't have the best support networks in place. It requires an immense amount of energy and motivation to go in and give them your all, day-in-day-out. But I seriously love it, there's nothing I'd rather be doing right now.
Did you find it difficult to stay on top of gaining your PhD and training?
Well, part of it was that I was in my mid-20's and had a gargantuan amount of energy! No, seriously, teachers tried to get me on meds for ADD until like high school -- my mom, on the other hand, just sort of figured everything would 'sort itself out.' I've always had a little to much energy going on, and cycling was actually what allowed me to stay anchored and sane in grad school. I really liked (and still do) the structure of training to orient my day and head.
Why the switch from academia to teaching high school?
At Blackstone I was working with kids ages 6-20, and at the University of Chicago I taught college and MA-level courses, but honestly out of the elementary to mid-30s age range, I've always had a sweet spot in my heart for the high schoolers. They're really entertaining, if you can stomach the occasional dingbattery [laughing]. As for the switch from academia to high school teaching, that was really a result of the types of political philosophy that I was studying and the experience of working with kids on the South Side. I spent a lot of time writing, reading and racking my brain about the subjects of action, public life, I was trying to help kids change their vantage point on the world. Honestly, when the opportunity came up to blend those two strands of my life I left at the chance.
How and what age did you become involved in cycling?
I lived in the country and I grew up riding bikes, recreationally and with friends. When I went to college I got one for commuting, but it wasn't until the first year of grad school when I got my first road bike and started riding a lot, and training in earnest a year later.
Everyday, every type of weather you commute to work on your bike?
Ha! Yes! A love of bikes and sheer necessity. I live about 14 miles away from where I teach (West Side vs. South Side, much to the dismay of my students). I also still race, and therefore need to train, so I'm pretty much required to blend commute and workout if I'm going to fit them into the day.
Chicago winters can be brutal. What is your go to riding gear for such conditions?
Lobster gloves, merino base layers, and a good thermal/roubaix/windproof jacket. Currently in rotation: Rapha winter tights + merino turtlenecks + Proteam Jacket + Gore women's gloves
Favorite cycling discipline?
Go to song when you need training inspiration:
Depends on my mood, but it varies from classic riot grrl, to Euro pop, late-70s punk, and trash/garage rock'n' roll -- with some Beyonce and Chicago rappers thrown in for good measure (and the fact that I need to at least appear semi-cool to my kids.)
What is your favorite thing about the cycling community of Chicago?
It's a really solid community of women, and more generally is really welcoming of women on a larger scale.
What is your favorite thing to come home to after a long day at work?
David having made dinner. He's the best.
If you could go back and tell your younger self anything when first starting out, what would you say?
Spend more time nurturing the network of women around you.
What advice would you give to women pursuing their endeavors and goals?
Don't take any shit and be confident in your abilities.
Women you have looked up to?
I came really close to quitting my PhD program, and three of my friends' moms -- all in their 70s -- independently reached out and essentially told me to take my head out of my ass and finish the damn thing. They were totally right, and I greatly appreciated the blunt honesty. I admire any woman who has the guts to give unsolicited, thoughtful, and necessary advice.
2017 race goals?
More gravel! We'll see what the summer brings. Also, more UCI races for CX -- even though I'm nowhere near the front of the race, the courses tend to be way more challenging, and the races are just faster. You go way harder, even if unintentionally.
Who would you want to see on this series of women shakers and movers?
Emma Pooley. She's been my girl crush for years.
Why do you do what you do?
Because I firmly believe that every kid has a right to a quality, engaging, and empowering education. A lot of kids in this country receive this as a given. I view it as an ethical and civic responsibility to try and provide that same given to those kids and communities who been historically and structurally denied it. When I got to teach de Tocqueville's 'despotism of the majority' and Pettit's freedom of non-domination to black, South Side, 16 year olds two weeks after Trump won the election -- and they got it. Walking them through those arguments and seeing it 'click' in each of them was just awesome. Critical thought is game changing for a young mind, and it has the wonderful benefit of being a tool that can never be taken away once grasped.
What does the world need more of? Less of?
The world needs more people to honestly recognize the validity of the experiences of others -- and then build anew from those interactions. The world needs less polemical, one-sided shenanigans. At some point I plan on writing a book about this topic, but for now, I'll leave it as it.
I look forward to reading that book - and I look forward to seeing Dr. Knight (honestly one of the coolest names) crushing gravel in 2017.