NYer Of The Week: Jeffrey Heller Rides Bike For Refugees
This week's New Yorker is hitting the road on his custom bicycle, to raise money to help refugees and dispel misconceptions about immigration. John Schiumo filed this report.
To view our videos, you need to
install Adobe Flash 9 or above. Install now.
Then come back here and refresh the page.
Jeffrey Heller does not have an ordinary bike. Then again, he is no ordinary cyclist.
About four weeks ago, Jeff left New York, embarking on his second Ride for Human Rights. It's a bicycle fundraising event to raise awareness and funds for refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.
"I don't like to be a squirrel in a cage riding in a circle," Heller said. "I'd rather start somewhere, end up somewhere and actually do useful work."
The ride is for the charity Human Rights First, an organization Jeff started working with for free as a lawyer more than 20 years ago.
"An opportunity arose to take a pro bono political asylum case for a Haitian refugee," he said. "When I got involved with that, I began to remember the reason I went to law school. The things one forgets when one has bills to pay."
"I found it much more satisfying to work with an individual who was fighting not for money but fighting against the system that wanted to return him or her to a place where they would suffer," he added.
Jeff’s journey took him 1,000 miles from New York. He went through Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia to Tennessee, stopping along the way to give talks on asylum cases.
Helping to solve injustice keeps Jeff cycling and practicing law.
"When you hear that relief has been granted, you can get choked up and you feel that it was a good day's work," he said. "That's a good feeling."
Jeff cites stories from people like Naod Sergew, whose family fled Ethiopia's civil war.
"We were very scared," Sergew said. "We were very desperate and we didn't know where to go. Jeff reassured us and showed us so much empathy and really represented what we believed were the ideals of America. It's about giving people a chance. People who have no where else to turn have someone to turn to. He gave us a lot of hope that changed certainly all of our families' lives."
And so, for raising awareness on the road and for changing lives along the journey, Jeffrey Heller is our New Yorker of the Week.