We arrived at the “Rumble in Richmond” just after 11 a.m. and I braced myself for a long day. Heavily tattooed and long bearded people were abundant, including the two who chose to stand in front of where I’d set up my chair. Together they stood, accompanied by a girlfriend who said nothing and a pit-bull, uttering the “F” word every other sentence. This was not my scene.
The preceding week had been full of mini-eruptions with my younger son, who is a BMX cyclist. The “Rumble in Richmond” is a once-a-year BMX event. By participating, he might get noticed, he argued, maybe win a sponsorship. Because we would not let him drive with people we didn’t know across state lines, I offered to drive him to keep the peace.
“He’ll never take you up on it,” my husband said. “He’d be too embarrassed to have his mom along.”
I was miffed. “What makes me so embarrassing?” But, whatever. If he said no, I could get my nails done, start that writing project, take the dog to the vet, and read on the porch. But soon enough my son’s icy stares began to melt, and he asked if I would take him to the Rumble. Thus, I found myself on a warm summer morning, settling in with sunscreen, a book, and plenty of water, hoping to distract myself from the “conversation” happening in front of me, resigned to my fate.
Soon enough the action started, and my attention was drawn to the track. Little people on bikes that were not as tall as my knees made their way up and down the hilly course around the two huge dirt jumps that were the main attraction for the older riders. The announcer called out that there was a “ladies’” event happening on the “pump track,” apparently a first in what I’ve assumed was very male-dominated sport.
Gradually, I noticed that people from every background, every walk of life were present both as spectators and participants. There was a Pacific Islander family, a dad with long braids with a three-year-old on a bike in tow. There were the Vineyard Vines clad grandparents, out to watch their preppyish grandson participate. The whole event was free, put on by volunteers. Kids and parents of all skin colors, all sizes, all styles, and probably all income levels and political persuasions – everyone could take part.
The BMXers ranged in age from 3 to 30, the older riders constantly looking out for the younger ones. My son approached the huge dirt jumps three times, only to abort each attempt– “That is huge mom, and I am small…” But then, one of the “pros” said, “Let me show you how,” and “towed him in,” BMX speak for showing him the speed he would need to build up to make it over. Later that day, an amputee from Colombia would be wildly cheered and successfully helped over the dirt jumps with the help of a motorcycle. Others hailed from Australia, New Jersey, California, the UK, and Texas. It was a joyous melting pot in the birthplace of the confederacy.
Sometimes, like Saturday, I do something just for love: something that interferes with my plans, doesn’t particularly interest me, something I tolerate but don’t embrace. But love is transformational. I see someone in a new way. I see values they embody that maybe I voice, but don’t always live. My son is comfortable with and welcoming to all people. Cowboys in South Texas. Surfers in Hawaii. Fishing captains in Florida. He embraces our friends, professionals and PhDs, as easily as he does his BMX buddies of varied backgrounds. His camp counselors never wanted us to take him home because of his open heart and work ethic. And he welcomed me, delighted that I joined him for the Rumble, entering his world for the day, meeting those older friends he had wanted to carpool with but we had nixed, seeing through his eyes why he loves this diverse and accepting community.
Years ago, we took our kids to see the Blue Man Group. The performance started with a series of quotes attributed to people named things like Sara Tonen (serotonin). One said something like this, “When entering a new culture, it is always good to bring gifts. But if you want to bridge a cultural divide, create something together.” I think about that idea a lot as I sit in meetings about how to promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on campus. When we create together or work for something we love, those divides bridge more easily. We naturally find things to admire in one another; our hearts open to one another’s truths. This BMX world my young son loves does just that. The vulnerability of trying tricks, falling down, trying it another way, the creativity, and the self-expression all promote a comradery that may not override every difference, but certainly sets the stage for empathy, understanding, friendship, and an openness to learning about lives and histories not your own.
After all, when you’re 25 feet in the air on a bicycle, anything can happen. You need to have each other’s back. As Cam built up speed for the jump, the announcer shouted encouragement – “It’s the Rumble in Richmond, Baby” and then, as he wiped out, “It’s the Tumble in Richmond!” A potentially discouraging moment turned into a chuckle.
I watched and held my breath until he got back up. The pros patted him on the back. He congratulated them on their successful runs. When he made it over on the third attempt, the crowd loudly lending their support, I clapped, stomped, and screamed his name. Another mom turned and asked if he “belonged to me.” Yes, yes, he does.
P.S. You can follow Cam’s BMX adventures on Instagram: @Cameron_Sketchy_Searing.