PANTHFRICA: To our understanding, Slow Roll had its beginning in Detroit, MI. Can you speak to your first Slow Roll Detroit experience? Can you speak about the founders briefly?
Anthony Caferro: I met Slow Roll co-founder Jason Hall through a mutual acquaintance from Detroit, Dante Lasalle. Dante and I have known each other for almost 20 years and he and Jason stayed at my house while they were in Buffalo for a few days on the way to Albany. I had just completed a solo cross-country bicycle tour and naturally the subject of bicycling came up. Jason was astonished at the similarities between Buffalo and Detroit – demographically, economically, and geographically – and suggested I start a Slow Roll franchise here in Buffalo. At the time I was overwhelmed with various other aspects of life, but a few years later we started the 3 ride pilot season of Slow Roll Buffalo. It was very well received and the next year, a handful of us made the trip down to Detroit for their season opening ride. That experience in Detroit changed my life and fueled the spirit that still moves Slow Roll Buffalo forward. The simple energy of THOUSANDS of people of all backgrounds, ages, and cultures coming together to be physically and spiritually active felt like nothing I had ever felt before. Word can’t express it accurately, but it was truly the power of the people – I imagine it is probably similar to the social activist movements in 1960’s America.
PANTHFRICA: We find it worth acknowledging that the original co-founder of this growing social biking experience is African American. Seeing as how July 2nd, Slow Roll Buffalo is bringing awareness and attention to the Freedom Wall as it’s starting point for that evening, which features 28 dignitaries committed to community improvement and empowerment, might you comment on the significance of this particular ride?
Seamus Gallivan: We feel that the Freedom Wall is the best place for Slow Roll to celebrate Independence Day. Given that the Declaration of Independence was selective, the Freedom Wall is a brilliant monument to the fact that the fight for freedom for all has persisted throughout our history, these 28 immortal leaders serving as constant inspiration.
PANTHFRICA: Who are the founders of Slow Roll Buffalo? What in particular about this community-based event made it a strong candidate to introduce to Buffalo?
AC: Slow Roll Buffalo was founded by myself, Anthony Caferro, Mike Butler and Seamus Gallivan. Years after meeting Jason Hall, I finally felt ready to give the event game another try. Mike Butler was natural choice as he was my former roommate and a true cycling advocate. I was a bit apprehensive after years of hip hop event promotion, but the bicycling aspect gave it a new feel. I didn’t want to fall back into the same patterns, so I then reached out to Mike and I’s mutual friend Seamus to help with the publicity and planning of Slow Roll Buffalo. Kara Kenney, who handles volunteer coordination, is also an integral founding member. Buffalo is almost a perfect place for Slow Roll, due in large part to a lot of its similarities with Detroit. First, we’re geographically flat, which is conducive to an easy, slow-paced bike ride. Second, its a city of neighbors, which facilitates the sort of exuberance many of the riders display for the ride. Third, and more importantly, Buffalo is has a long standing history of being highly segregated, socially working class, and economically impaired. In my opinion, these social economic factors almost demand action towards bringing people together for discussion. Slow Roll does just that. As we often state, Slow Roll is just a vehicle for community action. Bicycling is a great way to get folks together on an even plane – and in a time where most people are not looking to have any sort of challenge to their way of thinking, Slow Roll provides an avenue for open and honest discussion; making new friends out of strangers and making everyone a little bit more understanding of each other in the process. This is the essence of Slow Rolls origins in Detroit and its true here in the Buffalo incarnation as well.
PANTHFRICA: What was the Detroit founder’s reaction when approached about spreading the concept to your hometown? Recognizing other cities like Washington D.C, Cleveland, Chicago and Minneapolis as other Slow Roll hubs, is there anything unique to Buffalo’s experience?
AC: As I previously mentioned, Slow Roll Detroit co-founder Jason Hall actually approached me about bringing the ride to Buffalo. Once I put that plan in action, I was also in communication with Mike MacKool who co-founded with Jason. He very plainly advised me to simply shape Slow Roll Buffalo in a way that fit our city. There were some basics he requested, like adherence to their model of the ride (ie a slow pace) and the Slow Roll Code of Conduct, but overall we’ve been able to operate in a manner that fits Buffalo… which coincidentally is very much like Detroit’s manner – another testament to the similarities of the two Rust Belt cities. As far as the uniqueness of Slow Roll Buffalo, I’d say two things stand out. Number one is our existence within the Empire State. It only took 7 or 8 rides before the city of Buffalo approached us for things like permits, insurance, and police presence. In Detroit, it took 4 or 5 seasons. We’ve been fortunate enough to have GOBike Buffalo already involved heavily in our city as a support structure for so many things, while Detroit, Cleveland and others have had to build that support out. More tangibly, I think that the event experience Seamus and I brought to the event from the onset has manifested in a very smooth growth of Slow Roll Buffalo over 5 seasons. We went from 200 to 2000 very quickly, and are still – aside from Seamus’ salary with GOBike – a lean operation run by volunteers. We’ve successfully grown and adapted over the first few years, and we’re still growing and adapting. But the rider experience has been smooth and positive overall, and thats due to the tremendous effort of our volunteer squad. Detroit has now approached us on how to recruit and manage their volunteers in a more streamlined manner. That feels good.
PANTHFRICA: Slow Roll is heavily volunteer based and thrives off of key partnerships, can you speak on the early-adopters and their significance to the success of Slow Roll?
SG: Our key internal partnerships are with the nonprofit GObike Buffalo, for which Slow Roll Buffalo has become a program to encourage bicycling and community engagement toward their mission of Complete Streets to increase healthier transportation, as well as our presenting partner Independent Health, which provides a great percentage of our funding.
From there, Slow Roll runs on people power, with countless collaborators and more than 130 volunteers who commit many hours weekly, from preparing routes and sites to community outreach. In this realm we are constantly evolving and growing, analyzing and improving our operations while creating and expanding connections.
PANTHFRICA: The response to Slow Roll in Buffalo has been very mixed, where some have expressed disdain and others fully love and support it. What sorts of strategies and practices have you been using in order to smooth the ride over, so to speak?
SG: The rides grew in size faster than we could reach the masses with our message that it’s much more than just a joyride – the bike and Slow Roll itself are simply vehicles to connect our entire community and stir an ongoing and inclusive conversation, especially about topics rarely discussed or seen in the media and from the blurring bubble of a car. We’re inviting people to get out and get together here in one of America’s most segregated cities, though we understand that some are skeptical of the messengers – we’re here to help overcome that.
Once the city got involved due to our size – we’d been managing the ride ourselves until mid-2015 when it was approaching 1,000 riders – the imposed police motorcade brought to many a sense of fear, from both the reputation the police already have amongst people of color and also the ideas that we would only ride in some neighborhoods with such an escort, and that we’re a tool for prospective gentrifiers; the first precedes Slow Roll, the second is false, and the third is an unintended consequence of our approach to desegregation. These situations increase our responsibility to connect with people personally so that they understand what we’re about and want to participate.
Some of the disdain comes from the wisdom of the great journalist Dan Rather – “Americans will tolerate anything provided it does not block traffic.” We often break the ride to relieve auto traffic, especially buses and always emergency vehicles. Though we know we won’t please everyone, maintaining peace and safety in and around the ride requires intense attention and caring communication.
PANTHFRICA: What is the main thing about Slow Roll that you would like for the Buffalo residents to gather their mind around, in reconsideration, for those who haven’t bought into the initiative as of yet? What is the biggest misconception or misunderstanding regarding Slow Roll that you’d like to mention and explain?
SG: We would love for Buffalonians still skeptical of Slow Roll to consider that collectively, we need now more than ever to get out of our bubbles – home, car, phone – and get into spaces where everyone is welcome to share experiences and make personal, physical connections. There’s so much more that bonds us than separates us, yet there are powerful forces preaching otherness – we are here to help overcome the dividing and conquering of our communities.
The biggest misunderstanding I care about is that we are inconsiderate colonizers imposing our privileged power over marginalized communities – anyone who feels that way is encouraged to ask anyone who’s participated what we’re really all about, better yet, come see for themselves – get on up, get into it, get involved.