Above: The 23 student cyclists and a few of their adult coaches gather before setting off on the Path to Freedom Tour in July 2015.
The Path to Freedom Tour; or in the Gullah dialect, Da Paat ta Freedum Tour, set out last weekend: A team of Georgia and North Carolina cyclists between the ages of 12 and 77, rolled on to the ECG in Durham, NC, launching a two-week bicycle ride. Our 700-mile route from Durham, NC, to St. Augustine, FL includes 550 miles of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a national heritage area that passes through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor traverses a region once famous for rice farmed by enslaved Africans, who were largely left on their own because of malarial conditions, and thus, were able to retain much of their native language and folkways. The “Da Paat ta Freedum Tour,” or “Path to Freedom Tour,” is a collaboration between the BRAG (Bike Ride Across Georgia) Dream Team and Triangle Bikeworks’ Spoke’n Revolutions Youth Cycling. A total of 32 cyclists, including 23 students and 9 adult coaches are riding.
In August 2014 the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission and National Parks Service formed a unique partnership with the East Coast Greenway Alliance, allowing the Greenway's spine route to overlap with the Corridor through coastal North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
"The partnership uniquely combines placemaking, health advocacy, youth, conservation, green mobility and tourism with cultural retention and economic development," says Herb Hiller, ECGA Southeast Program Consultant.
Freedom Team oaches Atiba Mbiwan of the BRAG Dream Team, left, and Kevin Hicks of Spoke'n Revolutions Youth Cycling
One of the most unique and powerful aspects of the Freedom Tour is its active, experiential learning platform. Unlike the traditional classroom setting, the Freedom Tour is a lived experience of culture and history, both contemporary and beyond. The team is moving through learning environments on and off the bike. Week one included a visit to Moores Creek National Battlefield Visitor Center in Currie, NC.
"A phenomenal Ranger named Len Garner connected dots from the War of Independence to the vital role that the Gullah Geechee people played in building America and their skills and overall contributions to the culture," says Coach Atiba Mbiwan of the BRAG Dream Team.
The first week also included a visit to UNC-Wilmington, where Bethel Paris, an ECGA Advisory Board member and adult cyclist on the Freedom Tour, led the group on a campus tour. One of the Tour's youth, Fernando Sanchez, will be attending UNC-Wilmington as a freshman this fall.
A powerful Freedom Tour stop during week one, was Charleston, SC. After cycling into downtown Charleston across the iconic Ravenel Bridge, the Freedom Tour cyclists visited Mother Emanuel AME Church to pay their respects and to hear from the wise and venerable Dr. J. Herman Blake, executive director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission (in photo above), his wife Dr. Emily Moore, and their colleague from the Medical University of S. Carolina, a cyclist and a scientist who conducts research on children's head injuries.
"Tonight, after a week in each other's company, our riders felt safe enough to trust and bare their feelings. I stood back and let the moment happen, only speaking to elucidate a point made or to ask the next person the very same question: 'How did you feel as you left the grounds of Mother Emanuel AME?' It was a great evening that allowed the kids to decompress and trust one another as they've trusted each other on the roads. Thank you, Dr. Blake, for your kind words that really made an impact on them," says Coach Kevin Hicks of Triangle Bikeworks
Also that day, the team participated in a volunteer service project with WINGS for Kids, a nonprofit that addresses children's social and emotional development needs. That evening the team dined with WINGS for Kids founder and current mayoral candidate, Ginny Deerin, who conveyed the importance of civic service and community building.
At the St. John's Ferry towards the end of the Path to Freedom Tour
It's been an amazing two-week journey for the Path to Freedom Tour riders. After visiting Charleston, SC, they rode on to visit the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, Mitchelville Preservation Project on Hilton Head Island, the Geechee Kunda Center in Riceboro, GA, and the American Beach Museum in Amelia Island, FL.
"After a short six-mile ride from Little Talbot Island State Park to the St. Johns River Ferry, we were greeted by Val Bostwick, the past President/director of Friends of the St. Johns Ferry. On the short ferry ride, Val took a great photo of our team from a higher ground on the ferry and pointed out that the East Coast Greenway sign indicates that the ferry is part of the East Coast Greenway, because it serves as a moving bridge to provide connectivity," says Coach Atiba Mbiwan, BRAG Dream Team.
Along the way, the experiential learning, spirit of cooperation, and daily achievement were profound. Communities warmly welcomed the Tour from end to end. Arriving in St. Augustine, the riders were very appreciative of their experience.
For its unique and inspiring mission, the Tour garnered attention from the press, including several newspaper articles, an interview on Georgia Public Radio, and local news coverage from the Jacksonville/St. Augustine area. Thank you to everyone who assisted the Path to Freedom Tour along the way!
Your support helps to develop this ambitious, 3,000-mile route, Canada to Key West. Your membership gift builds more protected miles that we can all enjoy, today and for generations to come.