By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Thursday night, just days before he starts his freshman year in high school, Winston Duncan has to mount the stage at the Kennedy Center and deliver a speech. His topic? How to find ways to make a difference.
No doubt he will draw on his own experience. After all, since he was 10, the Arlington resident has been collecting bicycles. He sends them to countries in southern Africa, places like Namibia, where some are forced to walk for hours to accomplish the basic chores of everyday life.
"I want to get people involved," says Winston, whose efforts are being saluted Thursday by the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to social and economic issues in the United States and Africa. Among others being honored are actress and activist Mia Farrow and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.
"Just to hear my name with all those people is something," the 14-year-old says.
The inspiration for what became Winston's charity, Wheels to Africa, came during a vacation with his mother in 2005. "What touched me the most was traveling through Swaziland. There was an older lady and boy on the road. They were walking and they looked so tired. It reminded me of my grandmother and how we would go to the pharmacy and get her medicine. But we were in a car and we had really good times together," Winston says. "I thought, Why not give people something like that?"
Back home, he hit on the idea of donating bikes to them, and shortly after his 11th birthday, he organized a collection drive.
"He kept asking me, 'How do they get their medicine?' It haunted him. It got to him," says his mother, Dixie Duncan, a tax accountant. "He said, 'If I send bikes, I can help them get to the store.' "
She says 20 members of Winston's extended family are coming for tonight's event. "We have a great life together and that is probably why he realizes he is so lucky and wants to help others. And he really works hard at it.''
Recruiting from the sports teams he participated in and his mother's friends, Winston's first haul, in 2005, netted 250 bikes. The next year he received 500. The drive went on hiatus the year his grandmother died. But last year Wheels to Africa collected 1,000 bicycles at five locations.
This year the drive, scheduled for Dec. 5, is expanding. "I want to collect 5,000 bikes in one day. I have relatives in different states and we want to get the collections in a number of states," Winston says. "There are a lot of wasted bikes in America."
When he's not doing charity work, Winston plays point guard and shooting guard for the Annandale Bulldogs, who just reached the quarter-finals in a competition in Florida. A couple of years ago, he competed in a state geography bee and made it to the top 25.
He starts Yorktown High School next month and hasn't yet decided on his own career track. "I like speaking in front of people, so maybe a lawyer, or something with geography," Winston says.
But of his charity track, he is sure. His mountain bike, a Cannondale, is "about ready to go to Africa." Right now, there are 50 bikes in his back yard, waiting for more donations.
And Winston has been invited to a conference next year in Kenya by a foundation in Lesotho. "I want to go back to Africa and see one of my bikes," he says, even as he prepares to polish his three-minute speech and don a tuxedo for tonight's event.