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With '12 O'Clock Boys' movie role, Baltimore dirt biker 'Chino' Braxton makes a comeback

Pacino “Chino” Braxton grew up admiring the 12 O’Clock Boys, the group of dirt bike riders who took to the streets with abandon, performing tricks that left residents in awe. Now he’s set to appear in a feature film about Baltimore dirt bikers, executive-produced by actor Will Smith.

"It feels great to be a part of a dirt bike movie, especially it being something I've always loved and [been] doing all my life,” said Braxton, 21.

“Baltimore is the dirt bike capital,” he said. “Don't nobody ride how we ride.”

The movie — based on the 2013 documentary “12 O’Clock Boys” directed by Maryland Institute College of Art alum Lotfy Nathan — centers on a boy named Mouse who desperately wants to be part of the Midnight Clique, a group of Baltimore dirt bike riders, according to a casting notice posted in September. Co-written by Barry Jenkins (director of the Oscar-winning “Moonlight”), the film’s cast includes Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, Jahi Di'Allo Winston (“Proud Mary,” Netflix’s “Everything Sucks”), plus Teyonah Parris and Will Catlett, Deadline reported.

“I feel like the movie is going to draw a lot of attention to the bike culture. A lot of people are going to get another look on it,” said Braxton.

The street sport, which is illegal on city streets, has been a contentious issue for decades. Community members and politicians have expressed safety concerns, citing that some bikers do not obey traffic laws, which have caused accidents and even deaths. As a part of the culture, local riders have also typically refrained from wearing helmets, some doing so for reasons of style. In 2016, the Baltimore Police Department’s four-person Dirt Bike Violators Task Force was formed to crack down on street riding. Since then, police say they have made at least 45 arrests and have confiscated more than 400 bikes and four-wheelers.

Braxton, who has become the face of dirt biking in the city, admits to past run-ins with police when he was younger and frequently rode on city streets — but for him, the sport has largely been a beacon of opportunity, a bond-builder in the African-American community, and a release.

“I could be stressed out, mad or anything, but when I get on a dirt bike, the world just changes,” Braxton said. “I just feel like I'm at peace on a dirt bike.”

And for Braxton, it’s a career — one that’s earned him more than 830,000 Instagram followers, along with partnerships and sponsorships from major companies, a unique feat for a city in which dirt bike riding is outlawed.

Earlier this year, he was featured in a campaign ad for international skateboarding company and clothing brand Supreme. More recently, he’s been signed as a motocross athlete and fashion influencer by Roc Nation, hip-hop artist Jay-Z’s company. Under Armour has also named Braxton as one of its local influencers.

The Baltimore-based athletic wear company stated in an email to The Baltimore Sun that Braxton will join their “UA Sportstyle Pioneers” campaign and will be the face of a November release of its UA Valsetz boot, to be sold at 25 DTLR stores in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

The movie role and sponsorships mark a comeback for Braxton.

He rose to prominence around age 15 under the mentorship of rapper Meek Mill, earning sponsorships from Shoe City and Monster Energy drinks, and traveling internationally to show off his tricks.

Then in February 2016, Braxton was shot in the head twice in a drive-by incident. Months later, his friend, local rapper Lor Scoota, was gunned down as he left a peace rally. Braxton’s brother Trayvon "Truz" Lee, who managed Scoota, was shot and killed the following month.

The situation shook Braxton up, inspiring him to leave for Los Angeles, where he attempted to transition into the professional motocross route. That meant practicing on dirt tracks — Braxton said it didn’t work out. Many of his competitors had been riding on dirt since they were kids, but his tracks were the streets.

“It’s like asking a lion why they don’t fly like eagles,” said his mentor, Dave Barron, owner of the No Limits auto parts store. “He has no interest in being dirty. He has no interest in racing other people for trophies.”

Braxton took a break from riding, and as a result, lost most of his sponsorships. He felt like he was stuck in a rut, he said, but after a pep talk from Barron, 41, he was ready to return to the sport he loved with new energy and goals.

Braxton now wears a helmet and often other gear — and he now rarely rides on city streets, he said.

“At first when I was doing it, it was just something I loved. I ain't really care about safety,” said Braxton. “But now, me growing up and seeing that I've got little kids ... looking up to me, I want them to be safe.”

And with these new developments — the film, the sponsorships, and his efforts toward safety — he hopes that dirt biking will become a larger platform where local riders will have opportunities, just like him.

“I really just hope to inspire young kids in Baltimore and all across the world. ... I just want to inspire them to be better and whatever talent that they do have, just to keep going, chase your dream, and never give up,” Braxton said.

“I built a lane. Why can’t you?”

Baltimore Sun reporter Chris Kaltenbach contributed to this article.

bbritto@baltsun.com

twitter.com/brittanybritto

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