Saturday, August 16, 2014

Vancouver Sun Blogger Gord Kurenoff's reflection on Cycling4Diversity

 Pedalling positive messages: Cycling4Diversity is no gimmick for Ken Herar’s agents of change

PHOTO: Ric Ernst/PNG
Ken Herar of Mission has turned a personal project into an inspirational Cycling4Diversity team in just four years, as the bike crew tackles racism, tolerance and cultural bonding.

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Conan O’Brien rarely fails to make this comedy-lover laugh, so it caught me off guard last Tuesday when the red-haired TV host had me on the verge of tears.
Five years ago, after NBC kicked O’Brien to the curb when ratings slipped at the venerable Tonight Show, Coco got stuck in a depression-like funk.
Instead of therapy or drugs, the Irishman’s “miracle cure” came in the form of a bright orange and green bicycle, with lots of shamrocks plastered all over it.
“Out of the blue, Robin Williams buys me a new bicycle to cheer me up. Like who does that?”
Williams, a self-admitted cycling “geek” who listed Lance Armstrong among his best buddies on bikes, apparently had done this often to cheer people up. It was like a Patch Adams with pedals moment.
(See Conan’s touching tribute video HERE.)
Last Monday, the 63-year-old Williams committed suicide. The pro cycling community immediately flooded Twitter with RIPs and encouraged people to go ride somewhere in Robin’s memory, to ride for fun, and try to make a positive difference in someone’s life.
ROBIN
Which brings me to Ken Herar of Mission, who four years ago started Cycling4Diversity after learning of a Fraser Valley Christmas party that didn’t want East Indians attending.
Herar, who in his teens was the Fraser Valley’s version of Milos Raonic on local tennis courts, just happens to be East Indian, although over the years he’s been accused of “acting too white” at times. Critics, eh?
For the past 19 years the class-act grocery clerk, now 45, has been an award-winning community newspaper columnist. He has tackled such issues as tolerance, acceptance, equality, bullying, harassment, homophobia, abuse, violence and discrimination.
Kind of like Mike Beamish, the veteran Vancouver Sun football writer who makes words dance, who says this on his Twitter account: “I’m one of seven billion people trying to get along with the other 6,999,999,999 in this world.”
Herar heard from a couple critics how the Cycling4Diversity project seemed like a “gimmick,” much like the mouthpieces who chirped the same claptrap about Clara’s Big Ride, when Clara Hughes rode 12,000 kilometres over 110 days to talk to 100-plus schools and 235 community events about mental health and the silent killer that is depression.
Ask Robin Williams’ family today how much of a “gimmick” depression is. Or Amanda Todd’s family. Or the thousands of people Hughes touched. (To get an idea how that project touched people, read former colleague Christie Blatchford’s great story HERE.)
Or ask the people of colour who Herar talks to with his volunteer touring team what it’s like to continually be the butt of hatred or hurtful jokes.
“I can’t count the number of times East Indians have been told to ‘go back to Surrey’ or ‘wherever you came from.’ It’s not right.
“Nor is it right to bash gays and lesbians, or deny people jobs because they’re over-40 or deny helping somebody because they aren’t your favourite colour or you don’t like them because of their religious faith or because they live in the valley and not the city.”
Abbotsford Coun. Dave Loewen, left, Dr. Bill MacGregor, and Kulwinder Singh Dillon, right, have brought credibility and stronger voices to Cycling4Diversity, says Ken Herar of Mission.
Abbotsford Coun. Dave Loewen, left, Dr. Bill MacGregor, and Kulwinder Singh Dillon, right, have brought credibility and stronger voices to Cycling4Diversity, says Ken Herar of Mission.
Stating that racism hasn’t changed much over the years — “lots of people are against it, but little is done except to talk about it” — his personal mission was to be pro-active and initiate dialogue, no matter how controversial the subject. It’s easier to raise awareness, he says, when you are a passionate agent of change.
“Initially, Cycling4Diversity was going to be a one-year thing. But it really took off. To be honest, I was surprised and pleased how well it was received and needed.
“We now have a small team doing big things at Cycling4Diversity. We have community leaders, councillors, people with different backgrounds. Our goal is to open minds and get people to mingle. Be ‘Canadian friendly’ to each other, if you will.”
Herar admits the formation of ethnic soccer leagues or service clubs slow down that bonding process, and he remains puzzled when he hears of new immigrants who refuse to get involved in Canada’s traditions or festivals.
“It’s natural, I suppose, that people feel more comfortable in their own communities, but there needs to be an effort to mix with others. Get to know your neighbour, celebrate differences, educate each other and make a difference. Be good Canadians.”
Cycling4Diversity, which has visited more than 100 schools, senior citizen centres, workplaces, prisons, service clubs and community centres in its first four years, has also handed out more than 1,000 T-shirts, funded in part by generous sponsors.
They have a splendid website — Cycling4diversity.ca — and members get involved in many community events. Last month Herar sat in a dunk tank at Mission Fest raising funds for the group’s fifth season.
“I think some people, including Mayor Ted Adlem, wanted to see me drown! And they laughed about it. That’s kind of scary,” he chuckles.
Dr. Bill MacGregor and Dave Loewen, both councillors with the City of Abbotsford, have helped take Cycling4Diversity to a new level with their participation.
“Bill is a gifted public speaker (and former principal/high school football coach) who connects so well with kids. And Coun. Loewen is so passionate and community minded. Those two, along with Abbotsford Deputy Police Chief Rick Lucy, really give us a stronger voice and added credibility.
“And Kulwinder Singh Dillon, the grandfather of our team, is critical to opening doors and connecting with everybody. He’s just a cool, likable guy with a big heart.”
Herar, who I’m proud to call a friend, admits he’s not a serious cyclist, and struggles to change a flat tire or fit into some of the skin-hugging Lycra cycling outfits. But his strength is connecting with people and motivating them to change mindsets and tolerance levels. It’s no gimmick.
“Kids who we have talked to in the past see me in the mall now and say ‘there’s The Cycling Man.’ That feels pretty good. It shows we connected, which is a start.
“We strive to keep our message real. We don’t sugar-coat it. I’m so lucky to have a great team of people who really want to make the world a better place — at least we’re trying.”