To send a message of peace and perseverance to parents, peers and the community, 17 Berkeley High students set out on a 600 mile, 14-day cycling trip from downtown Berkeley to San Diego County’s Santana High School Monday.
Santana High was the scene of a school shooting in March that left two dead and 13 wounded.
Most of the Berkeley students are from low-income families and didn’t own bicycles until two months ago. Drawn from the East Bay Asian Youth Center’s after-school tutoring program at Berkeley High, many have never been away from home for two weeks.
Some have yet to travel outside of the Bay Area.
But early Monday morning they stood decked out in professional cycling gear in Civic Center Park as parents and community leaders paid tribute to their vision and courage in undertaking this grueling trip.
“I think I could probably pedal up to the BART station and back and that would be about it,” quipped Berkeley High Principal Frank Lynch.
The students have spent the
last two months training on stationary bikes and – on the weekends – pedaling police-donated bicycles up and down the Berkeley Hills. Monday, on the first leg of their trip, after taking BART across the Bay, the students would attempt a 25-mile climb along Highway 1, from San Francisco up to Half Moon Bay State Park.
The students will camp out in California state parks each night of their trip, using tents, sleeping bags and a mobile kitchen contributed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Halfway through the trip they have a day off to visit the Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
Still, before their departure Monday, students and their parents said they were a little nervous about the trip, where the students would sometimes be expected to travel up to 60 miles in one day.
“I wouldn’t even undertake this trip in a shaky car let alone a bicycle,” said parent Gwendolyn Edmond, whose son Aramon Bartholomeau would be one of those to lead the pack as the students rolled out of Civic Center Park and onto Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. “To me it’s so awesome. I can’t even imagine it.”
Ramundo Ramirez, parent of student cyclist Guadalupe Ramirez, said he plans to join up with his daughter for a day next weekend – halfway through the trip – just to make sure she’s doing okay.
Talking with Board of Education President Terry Doran, who would bike part of the way with the students Monday, recent Berkeley High graduate Maria Herrera laughed nervously as she told about feeling a little bit fatigued from all the weeks of training, before the journey had even begun.
“I was already feeling it coming up here,” she said. “I was like, I should’ve stretched or something.”
But when it came time for her to step up to the podium Monday, in front of a television camera, Herrera was all business.
“This is a very important trip for all of us,” she said. “We’re all going through some barrier that we have to get through. And this trip is really going to prove to us our capabilities.”
Herrera’s mother, Lucia Herrera, said she had some doubts whether her daughter could make an arduous trip at first, but has since been impressed by her growing determination.
“Now, I believe she’s going to make it,” Herrera said.
“This is a great experience, because if you can make this you can make so many things in life,” she added.
Parents and students alike Monday said they hoped this brave effort by students of color – African American, Latino and Asian American – would go a long way to undermine negative stereotypes about minority youth.
Asked what message she hoped the trip would send, Beatrice DeBerry-Barrigher, legal guardian of one of the riders, said: “Do not accuse all ethnic children.
“If one ethnic child does something bad, every child of color is stigmatized, which is unfair,” DeBerry-Barrigher said. “These children come from good homes. Some are being raised by grandparents and aunts, and with God’s help, we’re trying to mold our future leaders.”
When they reach Santana High, the Berkeley group will join with members of the Santee, Calif., community both to celebrate their achievement and to condemn outbursts of youth violence across the nation.
“There is peace out in the world, (but) you have to look for it,” said Guadalupe Ramirez, moments after she bid an emotional farewell to her family Monday. “You have to find it.”
Through fundraising and outreach, the students have raised $10,000 of the $17,000 cost of the trip. Donations are still needed and can be addressed to Berkeley Boosters/PAL, “Pedaling for Peace,” P.O. Box 17, Berkeley, Calif. 94701.