For Laurelton native and professional BMX athlete Nigel Sylvester, Roy Wilkins Park in Jamaica holds a special place in his heart. It’s where he played various sports with his friends and honed his craft in BMX bike riding. Earlier this month, Sylvester returned to the park to give back to the community through his love for cycling.
On May 13, Sylvester partnered with JPMorgan Chase Bank to host his first-ever ‘Pedal Forward’ event that included a bike clinic for bike tune-ups and education, carnival games, local food vendors, and a kickball game with free giveaways and more.
During the event, Sylvester gifted 20 children with free bicycles as a graduation gift for completing a six-week program that focuses on bicycle 101 information and safety.
“There was a moment where one kid rolled by on his new bike with a Pedal Forward jersey on and I said wow, this is the type of impact that I’ve been looking to create for years, where we can empower kids through bicycle riding,” Sylvester said. “We’re looking for this to be an annual event for years to come, and we’re going to work on making it bigger and better.”
Bicycling has been part of Sylvester’s life since he was 4 years old. The bicycle was his transportation from home to many different places.
Seeing the kids’ excitement as they rode their bikes around the park reminded Sylvester of his youth. He reflected on the confidence and freedom he often felt as he gripped the bicycle handlebars and rode down the streets. At local parks, he would practice stunts such as jumping on and off benches, popping wheelies and trying to jump up a curve cut.
“The feeling that those things gave me began to trump the feeling that other sports gave me. It went from a hobby to an obsession to love,” Sylvester said.
That’s when Sylvester began to explore the culture of the BMX sports world. He would travel outside of southeast Queens to practice at skate parks in Brooklyn and Manhattan and read articles and clipped photos of BMX athletes who inspired him.
“I would cut those photos and put them on my wall. I went to sleep every night looking at these images of different professional BMX athletes flying through the air,” Sylvester said. “It became a love for bicycle riding and everything that it stood for and the feeling that a bicycle gave me.”
Growing up in a predominantly Black neighborhood, and almost all of his friends who rode BMX were Black, Sylvester said that wasn’t what they saw reflected most of the time in the BMX media or publications. Before he turned pro, according to Sylvester, he was pursuing a sport that everyone around him perceived as a white sport, which came with its challenges.
“There was friction there. A lot of people didn’t understand what I was doing or pursuing back in the late 90s or early 2000s,” Sylvester said. “It was seen on TV but came on every once in a while. Media wasn’t as accessible as it is now. It was something that I had to be very diligent about and had this blind faith and follow my intuition that this was something I loved and can make something out of it. It cost me to be more creative and a fighter.”
With a lot of hard work and dedication, Sylvester landed his first sponsorship at 17, followed by a professional sponsorship with MirraCo. Bicycles. and Nike by his 18th birthday. Today, he is one of the world’s most iconic pro-BMX athletes who is known for his progressive bicycling skills, as well as his digital content featuring his unique BMX stunts and adventures around the globe.
One of Sylvester’s most successful film projects is his adventure travel film series, ‘GO’, which gives viewers a first-hand point-of-view of his rides through some of the world’s most recognizable cities.
Upon his success as a BMX athlete, entrepreneur, author, and content creator, Sylvester is also a philanthropist helping to give back to underserved communities.
“I’m a first-generation Grenadian and both of my parents are from Grenada. I watched my mother support her community not only here in the States, but back in Grenada. It’s something I grew up doing and it became second nature to me,” Sylvester said.
Through the Nigel Sylvester Foundation, he has helped to transform the lives of underserved youth, uniting diverse communities, and other charitable causes.
Prior to his Pedal Forward event at Roy Wilkins Park, Sylvester partnered with JPMorgan Chase to launch the Money Mindset Program at the Preparatory Academy for Writers at Springfield High School. The program is a four-week educational workshop teaching students the key elements of financial literacy, including savings and budgeting, credit, and cyber security.
“As someone who didn’t have access to this kind of program growing up, I know firsthand the importance of financial literacy in achieving success,” Sylvester said. “ I am grateful to be in a position where I can give back to my neighborhood school Preparatory Academy for Writers and help equip students with the skills they need to reach their full potential.”
While he is blessed and thankful for all that he has accomplished, Sylvester said he is “unapologetically unsatisfied” and will continue to “push the bar and to show the world the power of a bicycle and the power of dreaming big.”
His message to the youth: “Anything you put your mind to is possible, as long as you put the work in, dedicate yourself and be unapologetic. Don’t allow other people’s fears to dictate your success and dim your light, you can accomplish anything.”