By Brooke Naylor
For years, part-time BYU professor and therapist John Paul “Chief” Lilly watched abused children come in and out of his Provo office. They were too weak and scared to speak of their abuse experiences.
Then Lilly would see them go to court, and some would be returned to parents who hurt them.
Lilly”s anger and frustration fueled him to found Bikers Against Child Abuse, or BACA, in 1996. Today, the organization has more than 100 chapters in the United States. But Lilly isn”t finished yet.
Lilly said BACA began with Alec, a former patient. Alec was an 8-year-old boy and a victim of physical and sexual abuse so scarring that he was afraid to leave his house. The abuse tortured Lilly, too. His frustration led to action, as he broke the rules and took Alec from his home.
Lilly took Alec to a barbecue, where Alec, scared and timid, began to interact with the tough-looking bikers in chains and leather. Alec began to move from table to table, meeting new people. Lilly saw Alec smile for the first time in a long time.
The isolated tower Lilly lived in as a therapist fell as he became involved in Alec”s life. It was a philosophy around which he built BACA.
“We are not concerned with what is legal or ethical,” Lilly said. “We are only concerned with what is right.”
Lilly knew he could help other children like Alec. He went to some close friends and fellow bikers with his idea; bikers like Horace Montoya, former president of Sun Downers motorcycle club, and Mark “Ogre” Birchette, retired Army Ranger. With reputations like theirs, it didn”t take long for word to get out about what Lilly and his friends were doing. The first time BACA rode by a victim”s house to make their presence known, there were more than 27 motorcycles.
“We knew a group of bikers would be a good outlet that would be stronger than anything done before,” Montoya said.
Lilly said he related to a motorcycle club because of his experiences as a child.
“I know what it”s like to be alone and wounded as a 4-year-old,” Lilly said. “I grew up afraid and hating authority.”
Similar to what he now does for other children, Lilly was adopted by a group of bikers who became the family he needed. Lilly, as a child, was afraid of a cop that lived next door. The cop had a collection of biker”s jackets in his garage that he had confiscated from several motorcycle gangs.
Lilly sneaked into the cop”s garage and took the jackets. He then walked down the street to where a group of bikers met and gently tapped on the leg of one of the bikers. Lilly gave the man the jackets, but was too afraid to tell him where he got them.
Humbled, the man told Lilly he would return the jackets to the men to whom they belonged. From that day on, Lilly had a family – a family that shaped him into the man he is today.
Lilly, who has been a part-time teacher at BYU since 1993, received his masters degree in social work and science for marital and family therapy, as well as a bachelor of arts in psychology from BYU. Now, in addition to being a full-time partner at Sierra Counseling Associates and acting as a national executive board member of BACA, Lilly teaches an introductory graduate course on play therapy at BYU.
Lilly said life sometimes gets hectic, but he takes the time because it is what he loves to do.
“All the effort and despair is worth it when I get one of these,” Lilly said as he pulled a single piece of paper out of a full manila envelope.
He read a letter from a mother whose daughter had been watched over by BACA.
“Because of BACA,” Lilly said, reading the mother”s words aloud, “my little fighter finally started fighting back.”
Lilly folded the letter carefully and gently put it back into the envelope.
“My goal is to make it so there”s a BACA chapter in every neighborhood,” Lilly said. “I want children to feel free to be who they are.”