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Buffalo Thunder

buffalo soldierThe Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club hopes to use its Harleys to send a message to young African-American boys, reports the Economist (5/31/14). Founded "in 1993 by a Chicago policeman," the club now has chapters in 12 states and "nearly 1,000 members," who see themselves "as role models." Its Maryland chapter recently organized Buffalo Thunder, a bike rally "running from the Maryland suburbs through mostly-black neighborhoods to the African-American Civil War memorial" in Washington, DC.

Many of the chapter’s members are "military folk, lawyers, police officers and doctors," and their message is "that education, work, and — above all — the capacity to delay gratification enabled them to buy $35,000 Harleys. That works better than abstract sermonizing, says Donald Thigpen, an organizer of Buffalo Thunder: ‘They know these bikes are very expensive, and nobody gave them to us’," he says. Other chapters "often adopt schools, using gleaming, rumbling bikes to catch children’s attention."

The club’s name honors "black cavalry regiments raised after the Civil War to help settle the West, overcoming hostile white settlers, harsh conditions and short rations as they escorted wagon trains, carved roads from desert plains and fought American Indians. The Cheyenne first nicknamed the black troops ‘Buffalo’ warriors, it is said, in double homage to their toughness and their curly hair." While the club’s main focus is on boys, members also "tell the story of Cathay Williams, who disguised herself as a man to join an early Buffalo regiment."