This feature is a part of a new blog series where we will be lifting up some of the amazing Bridgebuilders in our network. If you'd like to connect with Neil or other Bridgebuilders, contact our Lead Organizer Nikita Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neil Kelly uses Metro for just about everything. Whether he’s going to work, meeting up with friends or headed to a Reds game, he’s almost guaranteed to use Metro. For Neil, riding the bus isn’t just a matter of convenience, it’s an absolute necessity.
Neil, who has been paralyzed since birth and uses a motorized wheelchair, truly relies on bus system to navigate from place to place with ease and to have the level of independence he wants.
“When I was searching for my own home, the first thing I looked for was that it was on a bus route,” Neil said. Without easy access to Metro and a route that runs frequently, he wouldn’t be able to have much of a social life.
We started organizing conversations to connect Metro and SORTA leadership with bus riders, the “everyday experts” back in 2017, when we were first getting started. As a frequent rider and passionate citizen, we knew Neil would be able to bring deep insight to the conversations.
“I was really excited when Dani reached out to me and told me about the opportunity to come to a conversation and talk to the SORTA Board Chair,” he said. “I went, but I didn’t talk too much. Afterwards I realized I had missed a huge opportunity to contribute my ideas.”
After that conversation, Neil was fired up (and ready to go! - see the next parentheses :) ). He was already active in the community, having gotten engaged in political campaigns and other efforts (he actually met Dani in a 2012 Obama campaign office), but he hadn’t engaged as an advocate on one of the issues most central to his quality of life.
“The initial conversation with Cohear was the spark...I started realizing that I had a unique voice and I can lend my voice to the conversation.”
It becomes clear once you’ve spent some time with him, but once Neil commits, he goes all in. So he didn’t just write a post on Facebook and call it a day. Since he left that initial conversation with the SORTA Board Chair in May of 2018, he has: had two op-eds published in the Cincinnati Enquirer, met with the Mayor, Cincinnati City Council Members, multiple SORTA Board members, the Metro CEO, multiple county commissioners, and the Mayor of Los Angeles. He has also joined two more Cohear conversations between Metro and SORTA leadership and groups of bus riders.
Did you catch all that?! That’s what we call an engaged citizen, and a powerful advocate.
For Neil, the future of public transit funding isn’t an abstract policy debate, it is deeply personal. “If Metro doesn’t get significant funding, they will have to cut jobs and cut routes. I don’t know if my route will get cut, but that’s not the point…you don’t want to see that for anybody.”
Neil is a force for positive change in our city, and we expect to keep hearing his voice, and following his lead, for a long time to come. We are grateful to have played a role in his path to advocacy and engagement, and are committed to helping more people realize the power of their voice and the wisdom of their experience.
Thanks for all you do, Neil!