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Guy working on bikes

By Christine Williams and Wil Crary

Every day at 3:30pm, young men in a neighborhood near downtown Honolulu participate in a culture circle at the Kalihi Valley Instructional Bike Exchange (KVIBE), where they learn how to repair bikes. For the young men in Kalihi Valley, KVIBE is a second home that offers play, mentorship, and skill-building. They begin each culture circle by sharing their names, homes, and ancestors. This opening practice reinforces their sense of identity and why they matter. Jeffrey Acido, an education and training specialist who works with KVIBE, says, “Anyone who can say these things with confidence has love for themselves – this is mental wellbeing.”

KVIBE is set within Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services (KKV), a comprehensive community health center that uses the community’s cultural traditions to help community members—many of whom are immigrants who feel dislocated from their homelands—heal and thrive. KKV recognizes that social connection and physical activity directly impact mental health, which is why 15 of their programs focus on improving the physical, mental, and spiritual health of more than 10,000 people each year.

The bike exchange is a creative example of how to improve community mental health and address larger community needs like social cohesion, a sense of belonging, and physical activity. This is especially important in Kalilhi Valley, where structural inequities that perpetuate poverty, loss of cultural identity, and low-educational attainment have put men and boys at risk of depression, stress, and chronic physical health conditions.

Recreation and social connections boost mental health and general wellness.

Positive self-image, environmental stewardship, and physical activity are at the core of what it means to be a young man in the bike exchange, where members support one another as mechanics and athletes. In addition to their daily culture circles, each year KVIBE youth leaders host the Kalihi Ahupua`a Ride, an educational bike ride open to the public where cyclists ride from mauka (mountain) to makai (ocean).

The eight-mile ride includes “story stops” where riders can learn about the cultural and historical significance of each place. KVIBE uses physical activity strategically, linking it back to cultural identity and social connection, which addresses many of the issues that community members in Kalihi face.

Mental health is impacted by community conditions

KVIBE is part of the Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing Among Men and Boys initiative, funded by the Movember Foundation. Making Connections is made up of 13 community-based coalitions that are working to improve the community conditions that exacerbate mental health challenges and support wellbeing for men and boys of color and military servicemembers, veterans and their families. All the Making Connections sites—like the one in Honolulu—are taking innovative approaches to improving mental health and wellbeing by focusing on strategies like increasing social connection, creating opportunities for sports and recreation, and improving the availability of safe, affordable housing.

They also make sure the men and boys who are part of their programs—whose voices are often left out of the conversation about mental health, despite experiencing depression, anxiety, and social trauma first-hand—are part of the decision-making about what the programs will focus on. At KVIBE, the young men and boys are encouraged to lead the design of program activities, become mentors to younger boys, advocate for community improvements like increased and improved bike lanes with policymakers, and coordinate major efforts like the Kalihi Ahupua`a Ride.

The deliberate culture that KVIBE has created should not be the exception to the rule. The ability to build a community where young people can talk about their ancestors with pride while literally keeping their blood flowing, is a crucial support to their mental health. Our nation’s mental health stands a lot to gain from incorporating opportunities for recreation and physical activity into all neighborhoods and communities.

Christine Williams and Wil Crary work at Prevention Institute, a national nonprofit that coordinates the Making Connections for Mental Health Among Men and Boys initiative.