In 2007, I felt humbled and privileged to be a part of a journey that I know I will remember for the rest of my life. “Unique” and “life-changing” barely describe the experiences and memories made during those two Spring months on the Ride — although depending on where we were, those months could have certainly been described as Winter or Summer.
The Eastern route of the 2007 Equality Ride took a bus full of young adults from across the nation through the Deep South, home of the Baptists — you know, my kind of folk. Our two stops in my native Carolinas were the Baptist Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., and the Presbyterian Montreat College right outside of Asheville, N.C. Other Southern stops included Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo.; Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Okla.; Baylor University in Waco, Texas; Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss.; the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.; Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.; Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga.; and Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va.
The 2008 Equality Ride hasn’t yet released its list of expected college and university stops, but this year’s Ride will prove to be an amazing journey of epic proportions. Departing from Washington, D.C., on Oct. 1, the Ride will focus entirely on the South and stop at what will likely be among the most conservative Christian colleges and universities in the nation. The trip will end after six weeks, on Nov. 20.
The 2008 co-directors are 26-year-old Katie Higgins, of Goose Creek, S.C., and 22-year-old Jarrett Lucas of Philadelphia, Penn., who co-directed the Eastern route in 2007. 55-year-old veteran Soulforce organizer Bill Carpenter, of St. Petersburg, Fla. will join the Riders.
- Danielle Cooper, 18, Maplewood, N.J.
- Edgar Diaz-Machado, 21, New Haven, Conn.
- Haven Herrin, 26, Dallas, Texas (a 2006 and 2007 Equality Ride co-director)
- Anna Kirey, 28, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
- Manny Lampon, 22, New York City, N.Y.
- Alex Lundy, 21, Syosset, N.Y.
- Caitlin MacIntyre, 19, Houston, Texas
- Taueret Manu, 21, The Bronx, N.Y.
- Lauren Parke, 25, Seattle, Wash.
- Abigail Reikow, 23, Philadelphia, Penn. (a 2007 Equality Rider on the Eastern route)
- Zak Rittenhouse, 21, Frankfort, Ohio (a self-proclaimed country boy)
- Nicholas Rocco DeFinis, 21, Lansdale, Penn.
- Nick Savelli, 20, Tallahasse, Fla.
- Azariah Southworth, 21, Nashville, Tenn.
- Enzi Tanner, 24, Kansas City, Mo.
Of the fifteen youth riders, two co-directors and including Bill Carpenter only seven of the 18 Riders are Southerners. One other Rider, Zak Rittenhouse, while not a “Southerner,” is nothing short of a self-proclaimed country boy from “the land where John Deere and flannel reign supreme” and a member of “a high school class of ninety people.” Another attended school in the South.
At the Equality Ride Eastern Route’s stop at Mississippi College, members of the student body organized to stop other students from throwing stones, after several threats had been
There’s no doubt that this year’s Equality Ride will be a tough one. If these non-Southern folk have never experienced the South (or the Deep South, especially), they’ll quickly get a crash course in it. Yeah, sure, the South has a wonderful reputation for charming manners and civility, down-home hospitality and gentility. The South also has the reputation of being one of the most bigoted, prejudiced, violent and oppressive regions in the entire nation.
Almost half of the 2008 Equality Riders are Southerners, or at least they claim Dixie as their origin. I’m sure the majority of the Southern Riders have seen the true face of their native homes, but, perhaps, some of them were raised in a progressive family, sheltered from the blood-stained truth of the land below the Mason-Dixon line. Like their Northern peers, they’ll be just as shell-shocked as soon as they’re exposed to the real South.
Welcome Riders, to “land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South.” Welcome to the land of death preached from the pulpit and forced psycho- and reparative therapy. Welcome to the Bible Belt.
I know the Riders will in all likelihood change very little here, but in my heart I know they will change some. That’s better than none. Few-by-few, people’s hearts and minds will be changed.
For those Riders who have yet to realize what their trip and work will mean to others (I didn’t realize it until a couple weeks into my journey in 2007), I ask them to picture the scared, young teenager fearing the rejection of his family. I ask them to see the beaten and battered young woman whose father disapproved of her girlfriend. I ask them to see the young boy who killed himself after years of verbal and physical abuse from his family, peers and community.
I ask them to see me — the 14-year-old boy who was taught gay people were worthy of death. The “preacher boy” who believed in the deepest part of his soul that he should be put on that ship being sent out to sea with a hole plucked into its side. I ask them to see the boy who once felt an emotional break down right in the middle of his small country Baptist church’s sanctuary and collapsed to the altar crying and begging for God’s forgiveness as the adults he respected and loved prayed for his redemption.
If one, just one, child can be spared the pain I felt as I came to know who I really was, then the 2008 Equality Ride will be worth it.