ROC Freedom Riders honor Black Americans' fight for freedom on July Fourth

Jul 2, 2020

This Fourth of July, a group of cyclists is honoring the struggle for Black Americans' freedom. They’re called the ROC Freedom Riders. 

Rashad Smith and Devin Anglin created the group in June. Initially, they’d planned to get more exercise during quarantine.

ROC Freedom Riders on their first ride on Juneteenth, June 19, 2020.
Credit Ayorinde Omobowale

“I wanted to be able to exercise and work out, and I wanted to incorporate an element that was fun and exciting,” Smith said. “And so we said, ‘Hey, let’s go for a bike ride.’ ”

From there, momentum picked up quickly. Their first ride was on June 19, or Juneteenth, in commemoration of the end of slavery. About 50 people attended. 

On Saturday, the “Blackout the Fourth Ride” is estimated to draw between 50 to 100 cyclists. 

One of the biggest highlights of the ride is a stop at Corinthian Hall, where Smith said Frederick Douglass gave a well-known speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"

“He spoke about the United States of America not really being an independent state at that time because people were still enslaved,” said Smith.

Rashad Smith and Devin Anglin are the co-founders of ROC Freedom Riders.
Credit Ayorinde Omobowale

Smith said that for him and for many Black Americans, July Fourth is not Independence Day, because in 1776, Black people were still building the foundation of this country as enslaved people.

The name of the group comes from the Freedom Riders of the 1960s, civil rights activists who rode buses to segregated bus terminals in the South in protest. Smith said the ROC Freedom Riders' perspective is a little different.  

“We want to be able to support the places in which we are and that is Black businesses. And we want our white allies to understand the importance of being behind this movement.”

He said that with actions like these, he wants to ensure economic prosperity for Black communities and equity for Black, Latinx, and new Americans, or immigrants. He said he wants to see more Freedom Riders emerge across the country.

The Blackout the Fourth Ride begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at B+ Healthy Food Market on Genesee Street. Participants are encouraged to wear all black.