Two friends from Arizona are on a 7,179-mile mission that's coming through Oklahoma City this weekend.
The pair, who met by chance two years ago, connected over each losing a brother to suicide. They are now on a cross-country bicycle ride and mission to raise awareness of communities' suicide prevention programs.
Thomas Brown, 34, of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Zachary Chipps, 31, of Tempe, Ariz., will stop in Oklahoma City on Saturday and stay in the area for a few days as part of their 21-state, 100-city tour.
Brown and Chipps will meet Saturday with representatives from HeartLine, which offers the 2-1-1 line for social services, and others in a round-table discussion about local efforts to help those who are considering suicide and families affected by the tragedy, said Rachel Yates, HeartLine's director of suicide prevention and outreach programs.
Yates will share with them how HeartLine answers local calls to the national suicide prevention lifeline 24 hours a day, the 2-1-1 phone line connecting people to social services and the Oklahoma City organization's suicide prevention programs in schools, called Healthy Education for Life Programs.
“This bike ride is kind of like a fact-finding mission,” Brown said in an interview on the road from Tulsa on Friday. “We're learning so much what communities are doing in terms of awareness and ‘post-vention,'” which is support for survivors.
They are also filming video and taking photos for a documentary about the subject that they will produce when they are finished with the ride by the end of September.
Brown said that he and Chipps met while working the same shift in a park as part of their jobs for the city of Scottsdale parks and recreation department. It was the same park where Brown's brother was working before he died in 2001.
Their friendship developed as they realized how many other connections like that they had, including that Chipps, who lost his brother in 2005, shares a birthday with Brown's brother.
“We don't like to call these coincidences. We call them ‘cosmic giggles,'” Brown said.
The pair of friends wanted to go on a long bike ride, and Chipps suggested they do it for a cause — their brothers, Brown said.
They are calling their ride RISE, or Revolution Inspired by Self Evolution, and in addition to suicide awareness, have added an artistic element with a focus on the “healing power of art.”
“We just feel that art, that the human need to express themselves is fundamental,” Brown said. “The way (people) live their lives is the greatest expression of art they could ever share with the rest of the world.”
They are blogging and creating video shorts about the trip that they are posting on their website, risephoenix.org.
“It's been great. It's been challenging. It's been rewarding. It's been really fun,” Chipps said. “It's also been frustrating at times, but all to be expected ... when your body doesn't keep up with your mind and your motivation or vice versa.”
They alternate days with each other between driving the car and riding their bicycles.
Though they only began in March, Chipps and Brown already have several stories from the road about connecting suicide prevention leaders in different communities with each other to share ideas about the topic.
“A lot of times we hope for those surprises, those blessings,” Brown said.
HOW TO HELP
If you are involved in a suicide prevention or awareness program in Oklahoma City or Norman and are interested in participating in HeartLine 2-1-1's round-table discussion with Thomas Brown and Zachary Chipps on Saturday afternoon, send an email for details to Rachel Yates, HeartLine's director of suicide prevention and outreach programs, at ryates@