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Leveraging Privilege to Enact Social Change – On a Bike

The hum of the wheels, the rush of the wind and the pattern of pedaling a bike ease many of my life’s stressors.

At times, I use my favorite hobby to do bigger things for people I don’t know but whose stories need to be heard.

Civil Rides – a three-day bike trip on April 4-6 “to raise awareness around persistent rural poverty in America and advocate for racial justice and healing” – was one of those bigger things.

Cycling, with its financial barriers of entry, is a privileged sport and using it to bring people together for awareness and fundraising for rural poverty and racial injustices in the U.S. has immense potential.

When those who do not have to speak out do actually speak out, tides may begin to shift. This is an act of leveraging privilege to enact social transformation for the good.

Learning civil rights history while riding through Mississippi offered names and stories I had never heard:

  • Fannie Lou Hamer – thrown in jail and beaten for registering to vote.
  • Emmet Till – brutally murdered at age 14 pretty much just for being of color.
  • George Lee – a minister assassinated after simply registering to vote.
  • Medgar Evers – assassinated for his leadership with the NAACP in Mississippi.

Growing up around Nashville, Tennessee, and being further educated in Birmingham, Alabama, it shocked me to have never heard of these fighters for freedom.

Perhaps I have forgotten facts and have read other books. Perhaps it is simply how the history we choose to write is written.

Fannie Lou Hamer’s life was most striking. Her constant fight for civil rights seems so basic of a demand yet was so difficult for those around her to hear.

On her memorial near her grave in Ruleville, Mississippi, she is quoted, “I’m never sure when I leave home whether I’ll make it back or not … but if I fall, I’ll fall five feet and four inches forward for freedom and I’m not backing off it!”

Another quote, one audible during the tour of the African American History Museum in Washington, D.C., is “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Hamer uttered this phrase around the time that her national TV broadcast encouraging people to vote was upstaged by a questionably timed interruption by then-president Lyndon B. Johnson.

While I enjoy riding, it can get painful and uncomfortable. I’m often asked what keeps me going on a ride like this.

After much time to think about it, it’s this: I have a choice. I have a choice to keep pedaling or get in the SAG wagon and quit.

I also have a choice to not even embark on this challenge, to sit at home on my comfy couch after working at my desk job.

I have choices that people stuck in a cycle of poverty do not have. I continue because I have a choice and I choose to work for equality.

The struggle of life for people of color in the South gave rise to the blues, which originated in the Mississippi Delta.

The blues offer a glimpse into the heart and mind of individual struggles and, at times, mimic the suffering and hope in hymns and spirituals, proving that we all are somewhere trying to get to somewhere else.

Individuals use various means to cope with struggles; doing so through music expresses the pain and sorrow while telling a story of life.

The plight that people in this area faced and are still facing explains why the blues started here and remain popular.

Civil Rides 2018 started from the steps of the Lorraine Motel on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination as part of the National Civil Rights Museum’s MLK50 remembrance.

Looking out over the crowd who were all facing the stage directly under the spot where King was shot provided a glimpse into the power of that place and that day that continues to ripple across time.

It marks the end of a great American’s pursuit of love, hope and equality. His life ended, but his dream is kept alive by all who choose to continue the fight for civil rights.

The theme of MLK50 was “What’s Next?” To me, Civil Rides is one example of what’s next.

It’s people – some with privilege and some searching for it – coming together to share the stories of injustices.

Once people hear a name, a face and a story, they have to make a decision to engage in the solution or ignore the need.

Created in the image of God, we share a common love for one another; it’s just sometimes drowned out.

I noticed several people wearing “I AM A MAN” signs at MLK50. Learning about these in school provided a distant understanding, but it was powerful to meet the people wearing them.

And that got me thinking. I too am a man, but I am a privileged man.

Whatever town I walk in, I am safe. Whatever door I walk through, I am welcomed. Whatever shop I enter, I am offered benefits. Whatever situation I’m in, I am trusted.

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything,” Albert Einstein said.

This statement is my encouragement to fight against our personal comfort with its soundtrack of humming wheels, rushing wind and life’s busyness to hear the oft-drowned-out cries for equality and equity.

People with privilege who finally join with people who are striving for something better is itself social change.

Together, we can learn that there is neither fear nor loss of status in helping each other.

Rand Jenkins is founder and chief strategy officer at Randall Zachary and director of Out Hunger. You can follow him on Twitter @randjenkins.

Editor’s note: Photos from Civil Rides can be found on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Flickr album. Additional information about the event is available at CivilRides.com.