Just one day after a gunman opened fire at a synagogue in suburban San Diego, 26 cyclists rolled into Newark this morning to deliver a message of peace.
The Delaware stop was the midpoint of a 600-mile, six-state, six-day ride, that began in Newtown, CT and will end at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, drawing attention to the worldwide attacks based on hate.
“Team 26” cyclists come from all over the country — from points as close as West Chester, PA, and as far as Texas — and they include high school and college students, as well as adults whose lives were personally impacted by gun violence.
Each of the 26 cyclists pedals to remember the 26 people — 20 children and 6 educators — who died in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Departing from King of Prussia Sunday morning, the cyclists toughed it out through a driving rain shower before making their way to the University of Delaware campus, where they were greeted by anti-gun violence groups and legislators including Governor John Carney, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, State Senator Bryan Townsend, and State Reps David Bentz and Kendra Johnson.
Lead cyclist Monte Frank said this year’s ride has been particularly challenging. “The weather has just been atrocious. We’re doing a century every day (100 miles), with stops and events, and we’ve got a lot of climbing coming up. But this fight we’re in is a fight that’s worth it.”
Governor Carney made certain he introduced himself to each of the road-weary cyclists as they stepped off their bikes at UD’s ISE Lab on Academy Street. “We’re truly honored that the Governor and so many legislators came out to support us. To us, it shows that leadership in the state is committed to reducing gun violence,” said Frank.
Frank, 50, lives in Sandy Hook. He started the ride as a way to honor the victims of the shooting in his neighborhood (his daughter attended the school) and to deliver a message to Congress demanding common sense gun legislation. He says over the years, the ride has become much more. “We connect communities and unite people in a common cause.”
This is the 4th year that Delaware Moms Demand Action and the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence have hosted Team 26 on their swing through the First State. After offering all of the riders a healthy lunch, a few cyclists shared the reasons they ride.
Cycling enthusiast Jordan Lynn was a first-year college student at Virginia Tech when a gunman opened fire on campus in April, 2007. “It was just such a surreal event that day. But since then, the attacks have just stacked up. And it’s become apparent now that even though 32 people lost their lives – freshmen, grad students, professors, a whole range of so many people with such promise – that Virginia Tech has now become just another statistic.
Lynn says he loves taking his message to college campuses, where there is much promise for the future.
Cyclist Tommy Fadoul’s cousin Reemah was also killed by the gunman at Virginia Tech. “I still remember the agonizing eight hours we had to wait for word from the school. Then I remember having to tell my younger sister the tragic news that Reemah was gone.”
Fadoul said he hopes Team 26 inspires greater local action. “I ride because we’re stronger together. Whether it’s at a college campus, the US Capitol, a synagogue or a church, it’s all about connecting communities.”
This is the first year that University of Delaware students banded together as a group to welcome Team 26.
Freshman Avery Jones, who graduated from William Penn High School in New Castle in 2018, has recently launched a new club on campus – Students Demand Action. Her goal is to introduce students to a variety of gun violence awareness initiatives and to promote voter registration drives before the 2020 election.
While Jones has been worried about gun violence ever since Sandy Hook, she says it was the mass shooting and the response by high school students at the Parkland School in Florida that ignited her to action. “Seeing them move so quickly, getting a march going, and gaining a lot of national exposure, I think that’s what really inspired a lot of students and why we decided to take action.”