In 2005, semi-professional cyclist Craig Dodson was invited to speak to a group of kids, many of whom lived in some of the roughest housing projects in Richmond, Virginia.
“I walk in with my khakis and polo shirt,” Dodson told CNN. “I start telling these kids, 'Don't do drugs and you can be just like me.' They just looked at me like, 'You idiot. There's no bridge big enough to get me to where you are.'”
Since that fateful interaction, Dodson has created the Richmond Cycling Corps (RCC), a nonprofit, which he explained lures kids in with bikes, but ultimately hopes it will help them get out of public housing.
One of the promises on the RCC website reads, “We will always deliver action, not messaging,” and on Friday morning, it fulfilled that promise.
The day before a pro-Confederate rally was set to take place, the RCC took five students who live in Section 8 housing to visit the Confederate monuments. The purpose? “So they can formulate their OWN opinions before the media frenzy that's going to ravage through Richmond tomorrow,” a Facebook post said.
After the visit, 17-year-old Daquan, on behalf of the four other boys, who are arguably some of the most underserved youths in America, wrote an incredibly powerful, poignant, and humbling message for everyone who is privileged enough to be able to worry about statues:
“Is it more convenient to take down some statues than to improve the real problem of society? A lot of people think that the problem with society is racism, but racism is only the feeling of one race being better than another,” Daquan wrote.
He explained their experience “living in low-income areas” has given them unique opinions about the current society — a society that blames Monument Avenue even though “those statues never did anything to me or people that I care about.”
He said the “only thing” that has ever harmed people in low-income areas is violence. Collectively, those five kids that the RCC brought to the monuments know 22 people who have died — in the last year alone.
“Where the protest about that, where are the reporters, where are all the organizations that claim to be to alive to better the lives of blacks?” he asked. “Why not protest in our neighborhoods where we see violence and hate the most?”
For many people, their childhood and teen years are marked with supportive parents and teachers who constantly reiterate the belief you can be whatever you want to be. However, for kids living in low-income areas, the message couldn't be more different.
“From the day we are born we are taught nobody cares and that nobody can help,” Daquan revealed, adding that just because a person is blind to their harsh reality, doesn't mean it isn't happening:
What if I told you that there were kids starving in your backyards living in rundown buildings? What if I told you that there are kids that rather rob, steal and kill rather than going in the house with nothing to eat?
Daquan explained that “most people” in areas like his have “never even seen” the monuments.
He suggested that instead of using money to remove the statues, it could be used to “improve schools,” or “fix up the community that we see everyday,” and he reiterated the world they live in and the world in which the people who are talking about the monuments live are two very different realities.
From the comfort of their homes, people discuss online and watch pundits dressed in nice clothes debate on TV the fate of statues dedicated to America's past. While in America's present, Daquan and the boys he wrote on behalf of wonder whether they'll have food when they get home and if their family and friends will be alive in the morning.
“Everybody wants to help but nobody is really helping are they?” he concluded.
Learn more about Dodson and the RCC in the video below.