Our mission is to increase representation in Washington, DC of individuals from rural and low-income communities. We are all graduates of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), which trains tomorrow’s leaders of international politics, economics, and development. Yet our school, like many others, is often inaccessible to those from the lowest socioeconomic classes in the United States. In the greater Johns Hopkins community, less than 2.9% of the student population comes from the poorest 20% of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, 72% come from the top 20%. At the graduate level, this trend is only magnified.

The SAIS Cycling for Access team wants to change this. Between June and August 2019, we will be biking from San Francisco to Washington, DC with two goals:

  • To provide rural and low-income populations with connections to, and knowledge of, programs that can grant them access to elite educational institutions like SAIS. Our route will pass through 111 cities, and we will be stopping at community colleges and town halls along the way to connect with people and share our stories. We’re putting together a list of internationally-focused scholarships, fellowships, and opportunities, and we’re piloting an informal mentoring program with students we meet along the way.
  • To raise money for a new fellowship at SAIS specifically designed to recruit individuals who have demonstrated leadership in the face of severe adversity.

Why this ride needs to happen:

Now you might ask, why do we need to seek out leaders from the lowest socio-economic classes? The answer: it will change the world.

Here’s a story from one of our team members…

“As an individual coming from poverty, I am acutely aware of how big this need is. Out of hundreds of friends and acquaintances I’ve met at SAIS, I know of only four who share my background and the challenges that come with it.

The poverty demographic represents more than half the world population and at least a fifth of the U.S. population. Poverty has a cultural experience that differentiates someone as much as race, gender, or nationality, and it needs more empowered leaders. Most people at elite institutions like SAIS don’t understand what poverty means. So often, students who hear of my “low-income” background will try to identify with me, talking of their inability to travel or their having had to attend a public university for undergrad.

These individuals will one day make policy decisions directly affecting poverty communities, and they will have no idea who they’re dealing with. I’ve worked since I was 11 years old and I didn’t read my first entire book until I was 12. Growing up, every other Thursday I would mix flour, water and salt together for some bread because my father didn’t get paid until the second Friday of each month. At 14 years old, I was removed from school and thrown into solitary confinement by corrupt police officers who wanted me to testify against my drug-dealing brother. This turned into a year of house arrest with an addict mother and a television to keep me company. While midterms were happening last year, my eldest brother and I were negotiating who should fly to New York to identify a body and make sure it wasn’t our sibling. I don’t think the same, act the same, or feel the same as most of my peers or government officials, and I want more people who can represent me at decision-making tables.”

Let’s start taking leaders from the bottom and giving them access to the top. Fund our bike ride and help us take the first step towards welcoming students to SAIS who have excelled despite their conditions, rather than because of them. 

What else you can do to help:

Get the word out! Please feel free to share our link at gofundme.com/cyclingforaccess

Meet us along the way! If you would like to grab drinks while we are biking, shoot us a message and we will swap schedules. We’re also looking for connections with community colleges and local media outlets.