Team 26 Leader Looks Back On Latest Ride, Anticipates Pushing Westward
Logging in at 200 miles longer and twice as topographically challenging, while battling problematic weather for much of their six days on the road, Newtown’s Team 26 took on their 2019 ride like they were on a mission from a higher power.
Up until this year, the annual long-distance bike ride organized shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting by resident Monte Frank had headed south to Washington, DC. This, in an attempt to influence political powers to affect commonsense gun legislation and help better protect the thousands of Americans who are killed and injured every year by gun violence.
But shortly after last year’s ride, Mr Frank told The Newtown Bee he realized political movement cannot come without cultural change. And the way to promote cultural change is by getting all parties to sit down together and talk about how much more they have in common, versus “being driven into opposite corners,” — the kinds of conversations that so often transpire with positive results in faith-based settings.
As a result, this year, Team 26 steered their tiny tires, strong legs, and huge hearts westward toward the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Penn., where they planned to participate in a rally marking six months following a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. On October 27, 2018, while Shabbat morning services were being held there, a single gunman killed 11 people and wounded seven more in what remains the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.
Along their route, Team 26 would spend significantly more time this year resting and recharging in houses of worship than they would in various halls of government.
“We’ve done this ride six years in a row, and since we began the ride, more than 180,000 people have been lost to gun violence. And yet, Congress has failed to act in the face of this critical public health issue,” Mr Frank said. “So when we got together last fall, we realized what we do best is raise awareness and bring people into the discussion.”
By doing just that, having countless face-to-face meetings with hunters and gun owners who share concerns about their children’s and grandchildren’s safety, and who also believe change can occur without compromising anyone’s Second Amendment rights, a cultural shift could begin.
“We hoped that by primarily visiting with faith-based communities on the ride, we’d be able to drive the kind of cultural change that we hope will lead to real change on the legislative side,” Mr Franks said.
Sadly, between their departure event at Newtown’s Trinity Episcopal Church April 26 and their May 2 arrival for back-to-back receptions at the Tree of Life and the Sixth Presbyterian Church, Team 26 learned of yet another shooting, this one on April 27 targeting the Chabad of Poway in California.
“We were already riding to denounce hate crimes and the proliferation of shootings targeting faith-based communities,” Mr Frank said. “So it made our arrival at the Tree of Life reception really that much more powerful. People from Newtown can understand the emotions six months after this kind of tragedy. I felt that same kind of emotion in Squirrel Hill.”
Looking back on the ride, Mr Frank said he was happy about this first-year change in direction westward, and the “objectives Team 26 set were far exceeded.”
“To help drive the cultural change, we need to influence political action; we need to think about gun violence like we’re fighting cancer,” he said. Another longer term objective was to begin shifting the Team 26 ride westward with the hope of extending it further every year — eventually bringing the inspired Newtown riders all the way to Chicago.
“Beginning this year, we’ve started to engage other communities,” he said. “After rolling into our rally in Gettysburg, we saw faith-based leadership going back to their congregations, speaking about gun violence and public safety. I see this kind of conversation spreading across the country through houses of worship, influencing the changes in communities that need to change.”
In an equally special way, Mr Frank and his riders also had a few very personal moments to pay respects and tribute to their Team 26 colleague and ride co-founder David Hoyle, who passed away just weeks before this year’s ride.
Day two brought the riders to Mr Hoyle’s hometown and his alma mater, the Abington Friends School in Jenkintown, Penn.
“At our previous stop at the Temple University Louis Katz School of Medicine, we received a citation in Dave’s honor from both the Pennsylvania House and Senate, and his wife, Nicole, was there to receive it,” Mr Frank said. “Then, at the Abington School, we got to visit with Dave’s parents, family, and many friends, who were able to see Congresswoman Madeline Dean convey a Congressional citation in Dave’s honor.”
As Team 26 plans ride number eight in 2020, Mr Franks affirmed that “Washington, DC, is not in the plan.”
“I’ll be happy to ride there again once DC has passed legislation to make us safer,” Mr Franks said. “Until then, we’ll continue to ride to honor the memory of 20 children and six educators killed here in Sandy Hook.”
Learn more about, and support Team 26 by visiting team26.org