MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As the city of Memphis continues to battle gun violence, a visitor is trying to spread a peaceful message and is dedicated to stopping the violence.
From felon to inspiration, Charles Veley has experienced gun violence in every way possible. It got him sent to prison when he shot a police officer, and he has both a son convicted of murder and a son who was murdered – and both with guns.
After a life plagued by gun violence, he now cycles across the country advocating for peace. Veley has biked tens of thousands of miles across the country, battling against the crime- and violence-filled life he once lived.
“You have a brighter future," he said. "It’s not necessarily your future in the streets, 'Let me go get a gun and sell drugs,' because I’m a living witness that nothing comes out of that.”
He began the campaign back in 2014, fresh out of prison for a botched robbery in which he accidentally shot a police officer, he was searching for a way to make an impact and show that anyone can be great if they set out to achieve a goal.
“I was so scared, but I still took the challenge," Veley said. "I never told nobody I was scared. This is the first time that I’m admitting that I was scared. But I still took the challenge because I wanted to encourage people to never give up on their life.”
Veley researched bike equipment, and a charitable AAA employee helped map his journey for free.
The first few years were learning experiences, as he got better gear and technique. But just as he was gathering momentum and attention, disaster struck.
Veley’s son and niece were both shot to death last year, as he was about to depart on his fifth cross-country circuit. The news crushed him.
“To be honest, I never thought it would happen to a guy like me," he said. "A guy who speaks so highly against gun violence and who tries to encourage others to live and love other people. It just broke my heart.”
Rather than fold, Veley doubled down, determined more than ever to stand strong.
“Maybe one person may hear, or maybe no people may hear, but as long as I push forward my goals in life, I feel like I’m doing the better thing," he said.
Marilyn Ollison, who is hosting Veley while he's in Memphis, said she's grateful for what Veley is doing.
“Right here in Memphis, we’re dying every day," Ollison said. "Someone is getting killed every day. So if you’re taking your time to help someone and spread the message, it’s great.”
Veley knows he can’t reach everyone who reaches for a gun to solve problems, but he won’t stop trying. He’ll continue across the country, promoting peace and trying to shine a light for those who don’t always have one.
“For me, it’s the greatest feeling in the world," Veley said. "If I die today, I would die a very happy man. I would know that the people was encouraged by me because who else would’ve encouraged them if it wasn’t me?”
You can follow Veley's journey on Facebook under the name C.c. Veley, where he will update as his journey takes him across the map.