First-year John Lee cycles across mid-America in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Lee embarked on his 1,500-mile bike journey from Nashville to Colorado June 3.


Lee began his journey in Nashville. Photo courtesy John Lee

Sahanya Bhaktaram, Deputy Life Editor

Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, a flood of protests and social activism to combat racial injustice and police brutality swept the country. Floyd’s murder is the latest in the long history of racial injustice and oppression in America, including the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery on Feb. 23 and Breonna Taylor on March 13. 

After seeing the posts on social media, rising sophomore John Lee decided to take an active role in supporting Black Lives Matter (BLM). Lee posted a video on his Instagram June 2, in which he addressed victims of racial injustice and pledged to bike 1,500 miles in the hope that people would donate 2.23 cents per mile.

“I told myself that I couldn’t stay idle while this was happening,” Lee said. “I decided on a 2.23 cent donation in honor of Ahmaud Arbery, since he ran 2.23 miles before he was tragically murdered.”

In the summer of 2019, Lee embarked on a five-day trip diagonally across South Korea, which served as a precursor to the journey he is about to take. The trip instilled a desire in him to challenge himself on longer biking trips, Lee said. 

With both physical and philanthropic motivations, Lee started his journey in Nashville June 3 and will travel through Kentucky, Missouri and Kansas before ending his trip in Colorado. He estimates that the trip will take him a month. 

“This has been one of my dreams for a while, so I am just happy to support an important cause at the same time,” Lee said.

Lee said he plans to distribute the money he raises to bail funds and organizations such as Black Visions Collective.

Lee’s choice to bike across America stems from a passion that began in high school when he said he begged his parents for a bike as an alternative to riding the bus to school and work. Soon, the vehicle became his preferred mode of transportation. 

“Biking provides a completely different perspective compared to being in a car,” Lee said. “It’s taught me to enjoy the moment while getting from place to place.”

In addition to his fundraiser, Lee has initiated conversations about race with other Vanderbilt students and friends from his hometown. Passive participation through social media alone is not enough to make a difference, Lee said.

“This is not something that will be solved in a month. I want us to be mindful and actively work towards change,” Lee said. “For most of my life, I’ve been relatively quiet in terms of putting myself out there, but I can’t stay silent anymore. Introspectively, this is a time for me to be better and for others to make changes as well.”

In the meantime, Lee aims to inspire change through his bicycle journey. Students can follow Lee’s progress on Instagram at @joenleh.