I’m writing to nominate Craig Dodson as Person of the Year, because he embodies what I believe about community. To me, community means that we care about one another. We care about education even if we don’t have kids in the school system. We want small businesses to succeed even if we’re not the ones making a profit. We want a clean and sustainable James River even if we’re not the ones out on the rapids. In good times, we celebrate together as a community and in tough times, we fight back together as a community.
Every day, I meet with Richmonders who embody that spirit. So many in our community give their time and talents to a cause much greater than themselves. We are a city full of vibrant businesses, remarkable entrepreneurs, enthusiastic students, and engaged residents. But it is no secret that Richmond is a tale of two cities. When you cross the Martin Luther King Bridge, you enter into a different Richmond. One that has been ignored, over-looked, and shunned. One that’s been forgotten and written-off. Decades of educational inequality, allowing violence and alienation to subvert once thriving neighborhoods, and the deliberate choices made in segregating our housing have created a generation that doesn’t believe that they have a chance to succeed. There is a generation that doesn’t believe that they can be better off than the circumstances they have been born into. It is generation without hope.
We can work to provide opportunities to all of our young people, but we must also give them the hope and confidence that they have what it takes to seize upon those chances. This commitment guides Craig’s work. This past year, I have had the great fortune to work with Richmond Cycling Corps. Craig and his team use the lure of the bicycle as a tool to engage young residents from public housing to develop their character. Craig not only puts our young people through a rigorous regimen on the bicycle, but he also does some of his best work with them off the bicycle. He helps the program’s youth with needs chronic to those in public housing: providing legal aid, assisting with dental and medical needs, academic support, financial literacy, and sometimes, most importantly, emotional support.
In 2014, Craig launched the nation’s first and only inner-city high school cycling team at Armstrong High School. He then expanded the program again earlier this year and brought a cycling team to MLK Middle School. He wasn’t done there. He organized and worked with community partners to transform a once vacant 15-acre parcel of land in Fairfield Court into a one-mile mountain bike course. It features 27 obstacles, a community garden, a 600 sq-ft barn, 41 newly planted trees, and metal sculptures. The Armstrong Bike Park is truly a “placemaking” one of a kind. By the way, the Armstrong Cycling team garnered a third place finish in the 2015 Virginia High School Mountain Bike Series championship race in just its first year.
However, we know the real results aren’t measured by trophies or in what place you finish the race. They’re measured in the pride and confidence these kids have when they tell me about how much they are growing because of Craig’s program. We all owe it to them to keep working on those opportunities. I am so proud of people in our community like Craig, who work on the hope. That is why I am submitting Craig Dodson, Director of the Richmond Cycling Corps, for Richmond Times Dispatch’s Person of the Year.
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