“No Sleeping in the Trophy Room” is REVOLT’s digital series hosted by Carlos Del Valle. This sit-down style show is a conversation series fueled by motivation, experience and truth, where Del Valle interviews successful individuals across different industries.
In an appropriate return to form, host Los Antonio sat down with Stapleton, Lanny Smith and Naj Tyler to usher in a new set of conversations with the voices currently shaping our culture with intention.
Together, the trio have found themselves at the heart of one of the more memorable initiatives trapped within the whirlwind of 2020 with their Bike Rides For Black Lives movement, organizing bike rides in protest of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black lives lost to inexplicable violence.
Just a day after their largest gathering to date, the three men sat down to discuss the origins of their protest format during one of the most tumultuous years in modern times and the work that is still left to do.
“We were having a conversation about how the movement was getting hijacked,” says Smith in the newly arrived interview. “We were seeing a bunch of negative images from the protests ...we could come together and do something positive.”
Among them, bike rides weren’t a novel idea and had already set in as a regular past time during quarantine, and as Stapleton notes, their blend of relationships and connections fused their version of a dream team that catalyzed a movement. Just how far that movement would go, however, was anyone’s guess.
“We just thought it was something dope to do,” says Tyler.
According to the three, an initial estimate of 50 people joining them on the ride was the benchmark they had set for success.
“I don’t think we could have guessed it would be over 3000 people out there,” Stapleton admits. “...I’m still overwhelmed. It was so much love. The unity. The togetherness that we witnessed.”
This togetherness — solidarity — the men say is a hallmark of their rides — one in which protesters choose joy in the midst of rage.
“Us showing joy is a form of protest,” says Smith. “When you’re in a system, in a society that is meant to tear you down ...to see so many Black and brown people out here with smiles on their faces having fun for this cause despite what’s going in this country, despite what’s going on with this climate, that was powerful to me.”
“It’s a superpower to be able to smile through it all,” adds Stapleton, reflecting on an emblematic moment in which an individual threw a water bottle at their group of protesters while in front of Trump Towers. “When we are in a bad mood or when we are enraged, that’s when they can control us.”
This sense of control is what has granted the group enough success to take the movement from New York City and across the country as they embarked on the city of Oakland in a historic ride. The significance of the locale was not lost on the three men, noting Oakland’s particular role as ground zero for the Black Power Movement of the 60s and 70s. Specifically, the Oakland ride would find protesters at the Alameda County Courthouse where the Black Panthers protested as leader Huey Newton stood trial in 1968.
“To walk those same steps years later for the same reasons, there’s a sense of pride, but also a sense of sadness that we still have to do this,” says Stapleton.
All the while, they have come to understand that this movement will likely persist out of necessity. Yet, they’re hopeful about a newer generation awakening to carry the torch with more force than ever before.
“We’re kind of like the middle children right now,” adds Tory. “We’re old enough to remember a time before this, but [the youth] are coming up in this revolutionary period. They got all of the energy. ‘Pac used to talk about how after the age of 26 you start to lose some of the energy to fight... These young kids are charged up.”
In that same scope, Stapleton, Smith and Tyler are playing their part in setting a foundation and standard for civil protest and activism as Los points out the details present in their execution. Such examples include the presence of a DJ curating a live soundtrack during protests to the passing out of everything from bottles of water and ginger shots to masks, and hand sanitizer.
Moreover, the creative nature of the men’s professional backgrounds shined particularly through the incorporation of traditional biking bibs, replacing competitor numbers with the names of Floyd, Taylor and other names to ultimately produce a memento for protesters.
Yet, for all the work that has been put into creating such moments, harsh reminders of the reasons for such outings could not be evaded as the men recall learning of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin just hours after riding out on Sunday, Aug. 23.
Per Lanny’s memory, he harks back to the sense of a “calm rage.”
“How in the hell did this just happen today while we were out riding?” he recalls asking.
Blake’s shooting served as a harrowing reality check and unforgettable reminder of the task at hand.
“Don’t rest on your laurels,” Stapleton aptly adds. “We can’t celebrate the first downs too much. We got to get to the touchdown.”
Such a stark turn of events also underscored a larger theme powering the core of the civil rights movement of 2020. Per Smith, we’ve been presented with a reminder of just how precious life is across all races accompanied by an extended exercise in empathy. It’s a reminder he believes began with the losses of Kobe and Giana Bryant, and seven other lives at the top of the year.
“We’re watching tomorrow not be promised,” he says, alluding to the urgent onset of action at all levels during 2020 — from personal development to nationwide activism.
Per their observation, 2020 had a way of dismantling buffers that once separated everyday people from celebrities not previously charged with expressing concern for the injustices imposed upon the Black community. Smith particularly references the role that athletes took on during the year, especially Stephen Jackson — a vocal proponent following the death of his close friend Floyd.
They also note the new wave of accountability that Black buyers have thrust onto large corporations and brands coupled with a consumers’ responsibility to support more Black-owned businesses in the process.
“Any brand that doesn’t fuck with us, we don’t fuck with them,” says Tory. “Nothing moves without us moving it. There’s more of us than there are of them, and when I say them, I mean all the powers that be that keep us oppressed.”
The new standard also goes both ways. With new allegiance and commitment to keeping the Black dollar within the community comes a new degree of distinction for Black-owned business.
“Operate in excellence,” Lanny counsels. “Do this to where your customers don’t feel like they have to sacrifice quality. They don’t have to sacrifice an experience to support buying Black.”
The actual implications aren’t lost on the trio either as they acknowledge the cycles of criticism and shortage of resources that have historically set Black-owned brands at a deficit.
“When the world has done something to you for so long, you end up doing it to yourself,” says Tory. “That’s a cycle we have to break.”