Starting today, the 1000+ mile bikepacking journey of New Yorker John Shackleford and his friends Richard Carson, Edwardo Garabito, Alexander Olbrich and Rashad Mahoney will follow along the route of the Underground Railroad. The 15-day adventure from Mobile to D.C. is one of protest, one of reflection, and one of hope, to be caught on camera and shared with the country through a documentary.
One woman behind the camera in this operation, Brittony McKenny, notes the journey is also one of love and community. Mappy Hour spoke to Brittony, producer of the Underground Railroad Ride, and let her share the details of the project, as well as her personal thoughts on it.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Brittony McKenny, I am from Baltimore, Maryland and I am currently an associate producer on the Underground Railroad Ride. Right now, I’m stationed in Brooklyn, New York. My background is in media production, I just finished my master’s at the New School in media and film engagement with a focus on media production, so I’ve been working in the industry, freelancing for a while now.
Have you always been into cycling? What got you into it in the first place?
Every birthday, every Christmas, I would always ask for a bike. It was our way of getting around, I didn’t want to walk, so myself and the kids in my neighborhood, we would just ride bikes. That was how we built our community.
What inspired you to combine cycling with media and activism?
This project came about through John Shackelford and Jon Lynn, who shot the teaser, and they found each other through cycling. They met up on their bikes, and they just started shooting. The reason behind it is about visibility. In cycling, you don’t see a lot of black people, you don’t see a lot of people of color, but there are people who love the sport, they love to participate in it, and there’s hope that this ride will be a beacon of inspiration, it’s a ride of protest to encourage people who look like himself, who look like us, to want to get on bikes.
Why ride the Underground Railroad Route? Can you tell us more about the ride?
Again, the reason is one of protest, this is our way of bringing that visibility to people who wouldn’t ordinarily see a black man on a bike, biking this far, or doing this type of thing. It’s also a way for us to connect with our past, because if you look at the times that we’re in, like ‘are we free?’ ‘are we so different?’ ‘are black people in America so removed from where we come from to where we are now?, ’ and I think this ride is going to give John and us some clarity about where it is that we’re going, and in doing so, inspire so many people.
Speaking of inspiring others, how will this journey be communicated to the public?
The whole goal is to promote community engagement, and not just John and his friends being visible. Throughout the film we want to incorporate engagement where people who are watching the ride and keeping up with where we are every day. It’s all community, it’s all love, this ride is only made possible because of community. It’s only made possible because of people who have galvanized it and who believe in what John is doing, and want to see this ride take place, and understand the importance of it.
What would you say are the biggest challenges of this project, both physically and technically?
I think the biggest challenge right now is just making sure that the guys are ready, mentally and physically prepared to take this ride, because it’s going to require them to give everything that they’ve got. Just making sure things are good on the home front, because when we put them on their bikes and they go off to do these 100-mile-a-day rides all the way to DC, I think that’s the biggest and the most challenging thing right now, because so many things can happen leading up to the ride, and I just want them to go in and give it all they have.
How will the ride and the journey be progressing?
Underground Railroad Ride 2020 is a documentary, it has progressed from a simple ride to a fully fledged production. The guys will be riding from Alabama to DC, we’ll be going through Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, all the way up to D.C. and taking that final ride. We’re trying to get different bike groups from different walks of life to come together and take this final ride with all of us through DC, and we want to make it a moment that people will want to participate in.
My job and the rest of the team’s job is to make it accessible, so that everybody can see it. There’ll be daily diaries of the guys on the trip, we’ll be on social media, engaging. There’ll be videos from people watching, encouraging, and that’s the biggest thing, that’s the most exciting part, galvanizing all these people and spreading that love.
All photos via Underground Railroad Ride.