If you would have asked me two years prior to going on the UGRR tour if I thought I’d be going on a cycling tour around the south with a group of teens I would have said No. But the summer of 2011, a couple of days after my graduation, 9 youth and 3 adults who I consider to be family, set out early one morning to begin a cycling tour of the Underground Railroad. However I don’t think any of us knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into.
From the minute we arrived at our first destination in Alabama to the time I left the group in Indiana, the tour put both my body and mind to the test and it put many things in perspective for me. I’m sure each of us had different expectations of what we would experience in the deep-south, with most of our expectations being race based. However many of my expectations were shattered and we were met with unconditional support and encouragement from the people we were scheduled to meet as well as the strangers we encountered.
I will never forget the day Suepinda and I were lost with the cyclists riding a couple of miles behind us in Waverly Tennessee. We stopped on the side of the road in front of a house and took out our maps. To our surprise, we looked up into the sky in front of us to see large confederate flags in someone’s yard waving in the wind and a resident of the home watering his lawn and staring at us.
As elementary as it is to say, don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a person by their appearance and what you think you know to be true. When you allow your false expectations and doubts to interfere with how you interact with others, you miss out on meeting some fantastic people and forming great relationships. When the roles are reversed and someone has false stereotypes or expectations of you but in return you treat them with warmth and kindness, they are often shocked and their perspective altered.
I will never forget the day Suepinda and I were lost with the cyclists riding a couple of miles behind us in Waverly Tennessee. We stopped on the side of the road in front of a house and took out our maps. To our surprise, we looked up into the sky in front of us to see large confederate flags in someone’s yard waving in the wind and a resident of the home watering his lawn and staring at us. To say the least, Sue and I were taken aback, avoided eye contact with the man and minded our business. About five seconds later I look up to see Kevin walking on the man’s lawn, greeting him, asking for directions and engaging in a seemingly friendly conversation. No one knows how the man truly felt or what his expectations were, but it didn’t matter. Kev admirably approached the man with kindness and as a fellow human being who had the ability to help us in our time of need.
No matter who the person is or what your experience with them is like, you can learn from them. And very seldom do I pass up the opportunity to learn from someone, usually dropping any wild expectations I have of them first.
My belief that a variety of human interactions in life are vital for our development was furthered because of the trip. Human Interactions aid our life’s growth. From the person who rode next to me, slowly conquering hills and encouraging me when I felt like giving up. To the person I met at the Laundromat in Kentucky who opened up to us and was intrigued by what our group was doing. You not only grow personally through these interactions, but you support others in their growth process, sometimes without either of you knowing it. No matter who the person is or what your experience with them is like, you can learn from them. And very seldom do I pass up the opportunity to learn from someone, usually dropping any wild expectations I have of them first. On the tour I made life-long connections with people who are now a part of my extended family. By removing ourselves from our comfort zones and the environments we were used to, each of us brought our individual cultures with us and were able to share them with the people we met, intentionally and unintentionally. In return connections and beautiful relationships were formed.
The UGRR tour wasn’t a one-time experience that I have put behind me. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I am grateful for and have kept very close to my heart, just as I have with all of my experiences with SnR. I don’t go very long without thinking or talking about my experiences that summer in some minute or major way. I hold the memories and lessons that I have learned very close to me.