‘Bike Man’ has better path for Edgehill kids

Friday, February 22, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 8

Terry Key, also known as the “Bike Man” of Edgehill Apartments, has given away 2,000 bikes in six years. The bikes are donated by various sponsors. He also teaches bicycle repair.

-- Photo By Tim Ghianni |The Ledger

The guy cops say “has a good heart” figures that if the five jailed kids had bicycles they might not be charged with murder. And musician Kyle Yorlets, not far removed from being a kid himself, might not have been gunned down for refusing to fork over his car keys.

A leap perhaps in your minds, as you ponder the recent uncompromisingly evil act and are shocked by the ages of the children – 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 – who allegedly disregarded human life, including their own.

Salvation by bicycle is Terry Key’s earnest sermon as we spend a gray and chilly Nashville afternoon sitting on his concrete slab of a porch in front of 1271 12th Avenue South, the headquarters of Edgehill Bike Club, where he tries to manufacture hope among potentially hopeless kids by putting them on two wheels.

That address is Terry’s home, where he lives with his girlfriend of 21 years and their three children in Edgehill Apartments, among the most frightening places in Nashville to commuters and tourists who drive past while making their way through the “It City,” purposely not gazing at the weathered brick complex, unaware of – perhaps ignoring -- the hopes and dreams Terry’s nurturing there.

More likely, of course, those driving or walking past think about the occasional gunshots that pepper the horizon and the salesmen of dope, despair and death. It’s not far from here that decades ago I interviewed gunfight survivors for a Nashville Banner column headlined “12th Avenue Shootout” (For Springsteen fans: I WAS borrowing verbal cadence from The Boss.)

Hopelessness and violence aren’t new neighbors along the now-trendy – save for the projects – area redubbed “12South” and/or “12 South,” I suppose depending on your sense of urban cool.

Terry admits there are many bad things in his neighborhood. He’s using wrenches and screwdrivers to fix ’em, spending his time repairing bicycles and instilling hope, one kid at a time.

“Twelve South has become a tourist area,” says Terry, gazing from his folding chair and past me at the neighborhood that has increasingly become a millennial settlement, a place for high-priced condos and homes, yoga joints, facial and nails artists, tourist-bait murals, trendy fashion purveyors, used-clothes merchants and big-ticket menus with valet parking. Seeing that glistening world from which life has forbidden them fuels the anger of those in the projects and amplifies the hopelessness of the kids Terry’s trying to save.

He’ll gladly embrace those tourists and pedestrians if he has the chance. Offer fist-bumps to those who dwell in the condos and the houses, tall-skinny and otherwise, that pretty much have turned Edgehill Apartments into an island of poverty surrounded by “It City” bustle and boom. Heck, maybe they’ll help his kids, since they have obliterated their neighborhood.

It doesn’t bother Terry that tourists stroll – or perhaps ride goofy scooters – right past, turning their heads away from his neighborhood that’s best-known for polar bear statues and as the home of the late and beloved DeFord Bailey. Late into his life, DeFord, a versatile musician – celebrated for his harmonica mastery – and first black star of the Grand Ole Opry, operated, in relative obscurity, a shoeshine joint 50 yards from Terry’s blighted compound.

Terry prays his kids meet and mutually educate those high-stepping tourists and the mostly white people in the half-million-dollar houses within eyeshot of the projects. Those glistening monuments to prosperity pretty much have vanquished the middle-class, black community that historically surrounded Edgehill Apartments.

“I’ve got one three-wheel bike over here that I’m going to turn into an ice-cream bike for the kids in the Edgehill Bike Club,” says Terry, pointing to a muddy area next to his porch and the giant tricycle, with a platform prepared to hold a cooler-full of Fudgsicles, Popsicles and their frosty kin. “I want them to learn how to be entrepreneurs. I also want them to encounter people who aren’t from here.”

He’ll do the pilot journey on the ice-cream bike himself when the weather warms. His plan is to ride up and down 12th, selling his wares to the kind folks who generally pass Edgehill Apartments while looking the other way and hoping they don’t get shot.

Terry plans to show the kids how to take turns on this ice-cream cycle, follow the trail he’s blazed, pedaling cool treats and peddling smiles to people from outside the projects. He wants the kids to earn a little money. He mostly wants them to learn and to illustrate that we all are humans with the same dreams. The same hopes.

“The problem is that these kids feel hopeless,” he points out. He has no doubt these kids were the reason God – and the flood that took his Bellshire neighborhood home in 2010 – brought him “home” to this, among the oldest of Nashville’s public-housing neighborhoods.

“I was working in the Dillard’s warehouse,” he recalls. “I had gotten off the streets and found a good woman and we had our family. And we found this house. It had a swimming pool in back. It was all I ever wanted for my family. I loved to get in the pool with my kids.”

His eyes – though they generally glow with good cheer and hope during our hours on the stoop in the housing projects and while rambling the area – pool up a bit when he continues the tale. He softly discusses how the Great 2010 Flood – that cost so many so much, no thanks to insurance company fine print and vacuous, alphabet-monikered government agencies – wiped away his home.

“We were homeless for about a year,” Terry says. “We lived in a hotel for a while, but we mostly lived in my mother’s house over there at 913 Archer Street, the small house where we grew up in.” He points to the near horizon of what has become a mostly white designer neighborhood. “All of us in one bedroom.”

His mother since then has cashed in on the greed consuming the African-American neighborhood, along the way making a solid six-figure sale of her house and moving to the suburbs. Those who did not or do not own their houses continue to fall prey to big-money investors and landlords with elastic pockets. Old-time owners may not be able to pay the now-upscale neighborhood’s property taxes.

Terry figures providence made 1271 12th Avenue South available for him and his family.

“I didn’t think we’d stay here that long, but I found a purpose here,” he says, looking out at the narrow yard in front of his home.

“Sometimes I’ll have 50 bikes out here and another 20 inside the house,” he adds. Those bikes are donated by various organizations, good-hearted citizens and from a partnership with Goodwill.

“God put me in this neighborhood for a reason.”

Like Superman and Batman, Terry is better known by his nickname. “The Bike Man” tries to save young lives on these do-or-die streets.

His crusade began at nearby Edgehill United Methodist Church, his unofficial headquarters and bike-repair garage in 2013, when he got Edgehill Bike Club its nonprofit status.

At that church – where he’s also been allowed to use the kitchen to work on hot wings recipes and the like that he can sell – he became acquainted with Hands On Nashville. That organization was temporarily stationed in the Edgehill area, a stop during a campaign to give away 300 bikes to kids all over the city, he says.

“They had 40 bikes left over, and they gave them to me. I gave them to kids here in Edgehill.”

When those kids began needing repairs to their bikes, they at first went up to the church to find “The Bike Man.”

“Then the kids found out I was living in the neighborhood, so when I would step out on my porch, they would say ‘Mr. Terry. Mr. Terry. Bike Man. Can you fix my bike?’

“That’s when I said to myself ‘I’m fixing these bikes, and I’m going to get me some Edgehill Bike Club T-shirts to give the kids. Let me see what I can do with them and put them in the right direction.’

“If I’m gonna bring these kids bikes, I’m gonna keep track of them.” Lift them.

The T-shirts were unveiled when Edgehill Bike Club – those 40 kids and Terry – rolled out of the projects and over to Centennial Park, where bike clubs from around the city were gathering “for a silent ride to commemorate a young person that had got hit on his bicycle by a car.’’

That adventure exposed the kids to other bikers, most likely from circumstances better than their own. And those bikers seemed to relish the occasion.

“Riding with the cycling clubs gave them (the other riders) the chance to talk with the kids about bike safety,” Terry says.

It also introduced the kids to an almost foreign, yet welcoming, world. “Some of these kids had never seen anything outside of Edgehill,” he explains. “Some had never seen a park before.”

There are obstacles to The Bike Man’s peace-and-understanding goals. He recalls one incident when the kids were greeted by rounds of gunfire when they stepped off the school bus. “The kids ran to my house. I took them inside.”

While they huddled for safety, he reminded them there was life away from the drug life, the gangster life. But those cats of the slum, with their crack and their guns, have proven they’re not immune to Terry’s benevolent message. “A lot of the gangsters, the hustlers, are seeing what I’m doing, and they are changing their lives.

Terry Key doesn’t restrict his bicycle mission to children. He is unloading this one for Operation Stand Down on 12th Avenue South. It will be given to a homeless veteran who needs transportation to get to work. Helmet is included in the deliveries.

-- Photo By Tim Ghianni |The Ledger

“They come to me and say ‘Terry, man, I want to change.’” Probably end up with wrenches rather than Glocks in their hands, helping The Bike Man repair cycles.

Of course, his real mission is helping give new direction to the children of Edgehill Bike Club. “I take these kids out of the neighborhood on their bikes. This is amazing: They get a new experience. They see not all life is negative.

“You ought to see how these kids were acting when I first saw them: They were mad. They had a mean look on their faces. Now, because of the bicycles and what they have learned, they are smiling.

“Four of them from the Bike Club are in their second year of college. They know they don’t have to be in a tough neighborhood for the rest of their lives,” he says.

In the six years of the Bike Club, he has given away 2,000 bikes donated by various sponsors.

Terry, clutching an energy drink and a football while we talk, looks at the slab that is his porch. This is winter, but when real biking weather starts, he’ll put the tools to repair the bikes out here for the kids to use as they learn to fix their rides under the watchful eyes of not just The Bike Man, but his three children.

“I didn’t want to do this until I could make sure my own three kids could be leaders,” he acknowledges. “I taught my own kids how to fix bikes, and they are teaching other kids how to fix bikes, and those kids are teaching other kids.

“I can just sit in there” – he points to the window overlooking the porch – “and watch.” And, of course, if ever needed, he jumps right in and wrestles wrenches and spokes.

After talking about how his own kids help him out, he further describes his love for and pride in his family.

“We been together 21 years,” he says of girlfriend Kim Waters, a Vanderbilt patient services specialist. “I love her. She’s my backbone. And we have three beautiful children.”

Terriana Waters, 20, is attending UT-Chattanooga “and she plans on becoming a doctor. I don’t know which. There are all kinds of doctors.”

Angel Waters, 18, and Terry Waters, 17, are students at Hillsboro High School.

Terry says he is proud his children didn’t grow up with the street “values” that consumed him when he was an impressionable and hopeless kid.

“I was caught up in the streets,” he says of his youth off Dickerson Pike. “All the people we had to look up to were drug dealers.

“I did get in trouble, but I got a second chance,” he says, adding he did a couple of years in jail for selling cocaine and a subsequent probation violation.

“I asked God to give me a second chance. I said I’d take advantage of it,” he remembers. While his friends still were street thugs, he said: “This isn’t for me. I changed my life around.”

He lost his thug friends, but “I found a girlfriend, started a family, started bettering myself” with the job in the Dillard’s warehouse that helped Terry and Kim purchase the home with the pool. “It was the house of my dreams.”

He doesn’t bemoan the circumstances that put him in this neighborhood. Rather he happily embarks on his mission from God to stop the violence, create leaders and mold dreamers.

“Terry’s got a really good heart,” says Officer Ryan Storm, right, Storm and Officer Courtney Hester, center, are members of Midtown Hills Precinct’s Community Engagement Team, which interacts with Edgehill residents.

-- Photo By Tim Ghianni |The Ledger

“I got people that come to me that want to make change: ‘These kids are dying, so what are we going to do?’ they say.

“These kids are seeing a man get his head blown off on a basketball court out there. I’m on the front line, man,” Terry says.

“I love these kids. I’m working with them all the time. I want to see them succeed.”

A part of the youthful anger he is fighting comes courtesy of the changing neighborhood. “These kids see where they live and then they see all these big homes coming in around here and they feel hopeless.

“They can’t even get out of here (the projects) without the police stopping them.”

His Bike Club, he hopes, will help those kids steer clear of succumbing to that anger. “I’m just trying to be an inspiration for the kids.”

Police support his efforts. As we wander the neighborhood, officers from the Midtown Hills Precinct Community Engagement Team holler his name. They embrace when he answers their beckoning. “Anytime someone like Terry can get out there and give these kids something to do that will help them grow and learn is awesome,” says Officer Ryan Storm.

Terry, who does construction site cleanup in his “spare time,” has two other things on his mind during our gray day together:

With the help of some of the older Bike Club kids, he’s fixing up a food trailer he also plans to use this summer to teach the kids about entrepreneurism by offering a menu of hope, hot chicken and hot dogs.

He’s also got a repaired bike to deliver to nearby Operation Stand Down, the veterans’ aid agency, where a homeless vet will pick it up later in the day.

“It’s a big bike for a big guy,” says Terry, who begins each morning having coffee at Stand Down, where he visits with the vets and ponders how he can help them, too.

“I have two cups of coffee with them to start my day,” he adds. The caffeine fuels his dream to help these veterans. He has repaired and delivered about 50 bicycles to help the homeless veterans get to work or simply escape, for a time, PTSD nightmares.

The reason I had climbed onto the concrete stoop in the first place was to see if this Pied Piper of Peace, this Bike Man, had thoughts about the recent tragedy in which the five kids have been charged with killing the musician, who was just 24.

Terry would gladly help these accused murderous children, but he’s not excusing their actions.

“I love all kids, but I’m saying that kids need to understand the consequences. If they decide to pick up a gun or anything like that, they better understand there are consequences.

“If you are going to kill somebody, you are going to jail. If they do the crime, they have to do the time,” he continues. “But so many of them (like the five) don’t see down the line. They don’t think there is a future. They can’t see past the gang-ness.

“I want to catch them while they are young, so I can instill in them hope so they won’t do things like this.”

They neither have to kill nor die before they get old.

With the bikes come repair skills, responsibility, encouraging words and, eventually, career guidance, says The Bike Man.

“If we can give these kids a skill or tell them about a job, get them a job so they can see hope…. Teach them what they love to do….

“I tell them ‘Don’t be down off the way you live at. Lift the neighborhood up. You’re young. You got a chance at a good life. Dream big, and make things better.’

“Then they can fly.”