Cyclist sets off on a journey to highlight nation’s black businesses
Baron Hilliard wasn’t much of a cyclist when he decided to spend a year biking across the country visiting black businesses.
But walking wouldn’t get the entrepreneur, who promotes black businesses through his Together AsOne Foundation, where he wanted to go fast enough. So, on February 4, his 39th birthday, he left his home in Plainfield, N.J., pedaling an $89 bike donated by a co-worker.
“I wanted to get out and bring more exposure to some of the good things going on in our community,’’ said Hilliard, whose ride is chronicled on www.JourneyThruBlackAmerica.com. “What better way to do that?’’
Hilliard has already visited businesses in New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia, hoping to raise their profile, as well as raise money to send a student to college through his foundation’s scholarship fund. Along the way, he spent a day with a Spotsylvania County, Va., farrier who taught him how to shoe horses; met with a woman in Hampton, Va., who broke the color barrier at NASA; and visited with a 14-year-old children’s book author from Montclair, NJ. He also has dined at several black-owned restaurants along the way, enjoying crab cakes and collard greens at one.
“I’m going to be the first to gain weight on a 3,000-mile bike ride,’’ he joked while resting in Chesapeake, Va., recently.
He learns about places to visit mostly through word of mouth.
For instance, during a stop in Lawnside, N.J., Hilliard took a local’s recommendation to visit the the Benson Multi-Cultural History Museum, which was started by the Reverend James A. Benson and has exhibits on the underground railroad and the Holocaust.
“He put up information [on his website] about our museum and that helped with our visitors,’’ said Bethany Benson King, the reverend’s daughter.
And Hilliard dined at Athalia’s Seafood and Southern Cuisine in Stafford, Va., after one of its customers introduced him to owners Jim and Cynthia McKoy. “Every business — not just African-American businesses — can use an extra boost,’’ Jim McKoy said, adding that he and his wife now tells customers about Hilliard’s website.
Where Hilliard will go in the next few months is anyone’s guess. He has a basic itinerary that will eventually get him to California, but said he’s open to changes. For now, he has no plans to visit New England.
Hilliard relies on sponsorships and donations — like the replacement 1988
So far, Hilliard has raised about $1,300, but to prefers to use company sponsorships to fund the ride so any money can go to the scholarship fund.
“It’s definitely a leap of faith,’’ he said. “Day to day, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stay in a hotel or on the side of the road; one day’s granola bar is another day’s dinner.’’
Erin Ailworth can be reached at email@example.com.