The reason we started SnR is not the reason it exists today. You see, back then we were naive in thinking that we had to show how exceptional black and brown children are.
We moved to Chapel Hill from Atlanta in 2006 when I accepted a transfer with a small tech firm. Life seemed idyllic leaving the big city for a small town. It was two years later when we sensed that we had made a mistake. We gathered our children together and held a family meeting. Our 4 older ones told us that “the teachers here think all the black kids are dumb!”. Needless to say, as parents, we were devastated, realizing we actually placed our kids into a hostile environment. We asked if they wanted to move back to Georgia and they said no. They’d stick it out. They knew they weren’t “dumb!” …
We began advocating for youth in the school district immediately. Our kids were being subjected to subtle prejudice daily but still advocated for themselves and forged ahead. In our mind we were asking, “what was happening to the kids who couldn’t advocate for themselves?” Who were the kids falling through the cracks? Because every year kids were graduating unprepared. To me it was bodies being pushed off a cliff. Endlessly.
My wife and I spent two years advocating from the outside but were only able to make little differences. Challenging the school district officials to live up to their stated ideals and rhetoric. Small differences. No broad sweeping changes.
The achievement gap
If we can’t “save” them all, can we save a few?
We naively formed Spoke’n Revolutions thinking that we needed to show how powerfully dynamic and exceptional our youth really are. Trying to put a round peg in a square hole.
Our first tour was the Underground Railroad. Taking youth on a cross country bike ride of over 1000 miles that linked history with community service. The youth visited National Parks and spoke with knowledgeable park rangers. They met small town historians who work hard at keeping black history alive; their history alive. The first tour was 32 days, exhausting, and well worth the time. As soon as we got home we knew we had to do it again. We saw something change in the youth. We witnessed their transformation.
That first tour we learned that it wasn’t about the achievement of biking a great distance. Nor was it about proving their worth to someone. The only person who needed proof was the youth.
We saw transformation when they learned history told from the perspective of people of color. People surviving and making a way regardless of the odds against them. With these historic personal achievements they were seeing themselves for the first time.
We bore witness to changing attitudes, previously unhealthy diets becoming to smaller healthier habits, and greater self-confidence.
Three pillars - Mind Body and Spirit
By being in places where history was made, they imagine themselves in history for the first time.
What was originally thought physically impossible is now increased strength and endurance.
Where there was self-doubt there is now the knowledge they have within them the ability to overcome anything they put their mind to.
We adults came away with the core idea: Given the opportunity, anyone can succeed.
Today the youth have lead us on many cross country bike tours based on historic spaces covering over 7000 miles and counting.