Pass on diversity and hospitality
What's Your Shade?
Bike-Aid taught me more than how to fix a flat in under two minutes or how to draft off of fellow riders. Biking approximately 70 miles per day, six days per week, I had the chance to visit almost 60 different communities this summer and meet many new people. I learned how to relate to people better and how to appreciate diversity.
When we arrived in Kansas City, Mo., Bike-Aid teamed up with a group called Hate Busters, who would join us for the ride across Missouri. This group works to call attention to hate crimes and to show that people of different races and religions can live and work together in peace. The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging invited all 35 bikers to stay at their headquarters in Kansas City. The Heart of America Indian Center made tacos for our dinner. All of the faith communities in greater Kansas City gathered for a human family reunion the following night to kick off our Missouri ride.
At the dinner, a woman who told us to call her Mom greeted us. The burly African-American woman, who later revealed to us that she is the mother of 12 children, gave each of us a huge hug when we met her, embracing us as though we were her own children. With her amazing gospel voice, Mom McFarlane sang her rendition of "Pass it on" and set us all smiling, swaying and reaching out to one another. "I shout it out, from the mountain top, I want you to pass it on," she proclaimed to us. We were to pass on the love and hospitality from that community in Kansas City to all people we were to meet on the way to D.C.
The next morning our ceremony on the south steps of City Hall was bathed in bright sunlight. Television and newspaper reporters vied for our attention. A phalanx of motorcycle police raced ahead to block every intersection for the next three miles so that we could get out of the city safely. Whistles and cheers came from doorways, street corners and cars, from people of different colors, ages and incomes. From my bike that morning, the world looked perfect and united. It was a Camelot moment.
We stayed in Warrensburg that night, where home stays were arranged. By twos and threes we went home with strangers who by morning were family. The following night we were hosted by the Women's Democrat Club and invited to a concert in the park in Sedalia. Christians United for Racial Equity (CURE) invited us to dinner in Jefferson City, and we lingered there long. The focus of the Bike-Aid ride, "viewing the U.S. through an anti-racist lens," matched well with CURE's goals and beliefs.
The next morning we biked 75 miles up Highway 94, where the Marthasville Community Club fed us and offered us beds for the night. It was a free night, so bike maintenance, letter writing and phone calls finished my night off, and I fell fast asleep by 10 p.m.
As the sun was rising a few of us were already on our bikes, heading for St. Louis, hoping to beat the heat expected that day. The Pilgrim Congregational Church had a feast prepared for us that evening to celebrate the end of the First Annual Heart of America Interfaith and Interracial Bicycle Tour, which is what the Bike-Aid and Hate Buster dual ride across Missouri was officially titled. Youth Against Hatred and Violence performed a short concert for us following dinner, where they sang folk music fitting into our theme of racism.
Then came a special guest. Yes, Mom McFarlane drove all the way across Missouri to once again sing the same song she always sings, "Pass it on." The song worked its usual magic on us and literally sent chills up my spine. I know that every note she hit and every word she sang came straight from her heart. The Hate Busters departed the next morning to head home to Kansas City, and Bike-Aid headed for Washington, D.C.
This is only the experience I had in one of 11 states that I biked through this summer, and I wish I could share more. I've come to believe that diversity and hospitality are twin virtues in this world. I'm a Roman Catholic and a Caucasian, and I come from a low-income background. If I were to always rely on people who are just like me, I would learn very little about the world. I can't describe how humbling it was to be welcomed by such a variety of churches, families and communities across the country. I never before imagined that complete strangers could be so hospitable.
Bike-Aid made me think about life at Notre Dame in a different way. We might not have the most diverse student body, but we can learn from the students who are here from different countries or from minority students to whom we have never talked before. We all walk on the same campus and pass by one another day after day, but how often do we step outside of our comfort zone and meet someone new?
Our differing races, faiths and economic backgrounds may set us apart from one another, but they can also bring us all together to share our insights, our burdens and our aspirations. Pass it on.
Theresa Ferry is a Bike-Aid rider and senior in McGlinn Hall. What's Your Shade? is the Multicultural Students Programs and Services' column and appears every other Tuesday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, September 25, 2001