BMX Pro Athlete Nigel Sylvester Is Making Impact Beyond The Sport: Here’s How He’s Using His Platform To Give Back

Ralphy Ramos

There aren’t many Black people involved in bicycle motocross, or BMX, as it is most commonly called. But BMX superstar Nigel Sylvester is working to change that. When he’s off the saddle, he says it’s about taking what he’s “passionate about and giving back to the people and communities.”

May is National Bike Month, and Sylvester sat down with ESSENCE to discuss his journey to BMX and his passion for philanthropic initiatives.

“The first time I touched a bicycle in my grandmother’s driveway was the moment I felt like my life changed forever,” the Jamaica, Queens native told ESSENCE. “I unlocked this new world, and it quickly went from just a hobby and something I did to something I needed to do as much as possible.”

BMX Pro Athlete Nigel Sylvester Is Making Impact Beyond The Sport: Here’s How He’s Using His Platform To Give Back
Ralphy Ramos

“I’ve fallen down off my bike hundreds of times probably thousands of times at this point in time in my life, but it has taught me to be brave. It’s taught me to have courage. It’s taught me discipline. It’s taught me determination and sacrifice,” the 36-year-old shared. “I apply those things throughout my life and certainly with what I do now. It was a very big dream, growing up as a young Black boy in a predominantly Black neighborhood, telling the people in my life that I wanted to be a professional BMX athlete at 12 years old.”

“But this idea was a very difficult one because my immediate environment wasn’t set up to breed professional BMX athletes,” said Sylvester. “So instead of trying to be this contest rider and fit into this mold of what people think BMX riders should do, I’m focused on breaking it, and I use the internet and my creativity to create content, and that’s really what has shaped my DNA as a BMX athlete.”

Growing up, Sylvester honed “his craft at local parks by jumping on and off benches, or at local churches or schools where he would grind handrails and waxed ledges, and from time to time, create makeshift ramps.” He began to film short video clips, performing his stunts and tricks, with a goal of making it to the professional level on his own terms.

The hard work and determination all paid off, and at 17-years-old Sylvester landed his first sponsorship. By the time of his 18th birthday, he’d landed a deal with Nike, and followed that up with becoming a signed athlete with Jordan Brand. Today, Sylvester is known as being “one of the most culturally relevant cyclists today.”

As his success continued to grow, the need to pay it forward was always in the back of his mind. Sylvester revealed how he was inspired to give back by the women in his life. “I’ve watched my mom give back so much and I’ve seen how she was able to affect people’s lives in a positive way,” Sylvester revealed. “My mom has been such a guiding force in my life and I’ve learned so much from her—she worked really demanding hours throughout my childhood, which is another reason why I spent so much time at my grandmother’s and why her driveway was so important.”

BMX Pro Athlete Nigel Sylvester Is Making Impact Beyond The Sport: Here’s How He’s Using His Platform To Give Back
Ralphy Ramos

In 2021, he started the Nigel Sylvester Foundation (NSF) with the mission of providing bicycles, access, and education through financial literacy, as well as what he calls “the gift of motion to kids and communities in need.”

Sylvester says he takes “pride in being able to gift a kid in need a bicycle so they can feel that energy and explore the neighborhood.” NSF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has, since its inception, hosted camps and workshops and partnered with other organizations to positively impact the community.

“We always have different events that we’re supporting, but since this National Bike Month we wanted to ramp up our efforts,” Sylvester says. On May 10, the Foundation sponsored a giveaway of Jordan Merch to elementary school students. The following day, NSF hosted a charity spin ride to raise funds and expand the Switching Gears program.

In partnership with the Boys & Girls Club, NSF will host a bicycle giveaway on May 18, and will also team up with JP Morgan Chase to host a Richmond Hill Financial Literacy Fireside Chat on May 20.

NSF, in collaboration with New York City Councilwoman Nantasha Williams, is holding a voter registration activation on May 25 and closing out an event on May 28: an athlete recovery room reveal sponsored by Hyperice, the month with where Sylvester was an alum at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School.

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