Growing up in St. Louis, Barry Bryant saw first-hand the difference books could have on his education. Bryant, who earned a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering in 2004 from the McKelvey School of Engineering, attended 27 different schools between kindergarten and seventh grade before finally enrolling in the Parkway School District.
"I remember being in sixth grade and attending Langston Middle School," he said. "We had a substitute teacher day after day. We had no textbooks. I felt like it was pointless and that I wasn't learning anything."
Bryant credited his parents for helping him persevere and instilling in him an appreciation for education. Not everyone has that, he said, and many of his classmates eventually dropped out.
"These were intelligent people — people who had potential, but didn't have resources," he said. "I want to provide everyone with an equal opportunity to learn, and I'm extremely passionate about that."
So much that in 2013, Bryant partnered with a family friend to found Biking4Books, a nonprofit organization that raises money to purchase books for St. Louis City schools. Since its founding, Biking4Books' annual cycling event has raised more than $150,000. Similar to Pedal the Cause, the event challenges cyclers and teams to raise funds in support of the organization.
Patrick Henry Downtown Academy, which has been a beneficiary of Biking4Books since its inception, has built an entire library of books donated by the organization.
"When I heard they had built the library, I got emotional because books are forever," Bryant said. "That's something that'll be there forever."
And forever is important to Bryant. Inspired by the positive impact Biking4Books has made so far, he's thinking ahead to figure out how to help schools and students in more sustainable ways.
"A lot of schools, especially schools like Ladue and Clayton, have switched over to iPads," Bryant said. "Instead of one textbook, an iPad can hold 10,000 books. It would be cool if I could partner with Apple or whoever's willing to donate 100 iPads per school."
Anyone interested in supporting Biking4Books can donate to the organization online. Many of the funds raised are from personal donations, but Bryant's goal is to partner with a sponsor and one day expand beyond St. Louis.
"We could take it to Chicago, down to New Orleans or Memphis," Bryant said. "There are so many children out there who are smart, who are educated, who are intelligent, but they just don't have the resources."
Bryant's aspirations to grow Biking4Books doesn't take away from his commitment to help students in St. Louis city schools, however. In fact, this past November, he helped give every student at Peabody Elementary School a bicycle and helmet following a deadly fire across the street from the school that killed three children.
"I'm really excited about the impact that we can make on the community," Bryant said. "These kids are our future, and a good education can set them up to make a good life for them and their families. It can change the course of their lives."