To help create a network among 4K alumni, we will be selecting a 4K alum to be featured in our new “Where Are They Now?” Q&A section. Interested in being the next spotlight, or want to nominate a teammate? Click here to fill out the 4K Alum Newsletter Spotlight survey!
Now it’s time to meet 2006 and 2009 4K Ride Alum, Raffi Wartanian!
Q: What is your current job?
A: I am a multi-platform storyteller passionate about social justice, innovative institutions, and creativity. I have brought this passion for storytelling to the education sector where, most recently, I have worked in the Los Angeles area as a writing tutor at the California Institute of the Arts and as a US History teacher in a local school where I also manage communications.
I recently published a short documentary character study profiling the Armenian-American musician Ara Dinkjian, a renowned master of an ancient pear-shaped lute considered the Middle East’s “king” of instruments called the oud. In April 2015, he traveled to Istanbul, Turkey to perform in a historic concert commemorating the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. I had been a fan of Ara’s music since high school, and when I learned of this performance, I tracked down grant support to travel to Turkey and capture footage of Istanbul during this historic moment. I interviewed Ara before and after the performance in his home outside of NYC.
Unfortunately, Turkey’s government denies the genocide took place and the few Armenians remaining in Turkey today live as second-class citizens. The concert in which Ara performed was more than a musical performance. It dedicated itself to honoring the souls lost during one of the darkest chapters in history in a country that has seen those who openly discuss the Armenian Genocide intimidated, imprisoned, or assassinated.
My grandparents survived the genocide, and I grew up visiting their resettled Armenian community in Beirut, Lebanon during the summers. Back in the US, I witnessed protests demanding Armenian Genocide recognition in America’s largest cities every April 24, the genocide’s anniversary day. The tension and vitriol present at these gatherings felt visceral and unproductive. With the 100th anniversary approaching in April 2015, I wanted to try unpacking in a mindful way the complex story of survival, hope, and resistance in the land where the genocide took place and, through its ongoing denial, continues.
View Raffi’s Documentary here
Q: Why did you do the 4K?
A: I was walking around campus at Hopkins one day and saw a flier that said, “Wanna bike across America?” I scratched my head. The clear sense of organizational mission and boldness spoke to me. I had learned from my prior experiences in community service that being a “brother for others” offered unmatched opportunities for growth and inspiration. What’s more, the clear sense of adventure associated with crossing the continental US was further incentive to submit an application.
Before, during, and after our visits to Hope Lodge, our team would reflect upon the struggles faced by those with or affected by cancer. But it wasn’t until we started ascending the Appalachians through headwinds and downpours that we really started to appreciate that the courage and tenacity of those we had met could compel us to cultivate those very same qualities as we took on our own challenges during the ride. I would think to myself ‘if they can endure years of chemo and surgery, setbacks and hope, then why can’t I put one foot in front of the other and climb this mountain?’ This boldness - to live, to fight, to enjoy every moment - fed right into the spirit of adventure evident among our veteran riders and in the very notion of fathoming this seemingly improbable adventure.
Q: What is the most valuable lesson you learned on the 4K?
A: Never stop climbing the mountain of life. No matter how heavy the rain, how punishing the heat, how steep the incline, or how rattling the winds, all you must do is put one foot in front of the other and never stop climbing.
Q: What was different between the 2006 and 2009 ride?
A: The second ride felt like spending two months with a best friend. The first ride felt like getting to know a relatively boisterous and trustworthy stranger who assures you that the adventure of a lifetime awaits. It’s clear you share some core values, so you trust that stranger and it’s absolutely the right call.
For the 2006 ride, I was a rookie who thought playing basketball and going on a few training rides would provide adequate preparation. Big mistake. I was pretty nervous the first few days and wasn’t sure if I would make it. But once we reached Cleveland, a place I had typically flown to visit family, it had finally sunk that pedaling to California was not just real, but indeed possible. The second time was absolutely different, and this is something I often tell returning riders: never compare the two trips. Skills, knowledge, and maturity essential to the 4K are quite refined for veterans. I felt my duty was to help rookies make the most of their journey while rediscovering for myself the blissful spirit of service and the open road. On both occasions, the bonds formed with my teammates and the resilience I discovered within myself and others across the country left a lasting impression that echos to this very day.
Q: What’s next for Raffi?
A: I am working on a project that tackles the gun violence epidemic through narrative storytelling.
Publication of the Documentary
Huffington Post Article