All Aboard the Peace Train

Local activist Curtis Reliford mobilizes change

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In front of a nondescript storefront in Winslow, Arizona, prominent Santa Cruz community activist Curtis Reliford was approached by two boys in search of spare change. After taking one look at the boys, Reliford decided he could do them one better by locating new shoes among the supplies in his patriotic Peace Train. Minutes later, when the store owner came out and asked them to leave, the boys’ father invited Reliford to stay with them at their Navajo Nation home.

After staying for several days and participating in inspiring ceremonies, Reliford was back on the road with an even greater sense of urgency to spread his peaceful message. Despite it happening during his 19th community service trip across country, Reliford regards this interaction as momentous in his mission to deliver aid to people in need.

“All that was channeling through my consciousness was love, compassion, empathy for all people, acts of kindness,” Reliford said as he dug through his memory.

Community activist and icon Curtis Reliford dances atop his Peace Train as he spreads his his messages of generosity and unity days before leaving for another trip to the Hopi Reservation. Photo by Christina Bulosan.

Most Santa Cruz residents now see Reliford’s familiar, lively activism, which began in 2005, as a staple of the town.

It was the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina that first inspired him to deliver necessary supplies to residents in his home state of Louisiana, sparking the beginning of his service journey. With determination and courage he collected as much food and clothing as he could carry before he set out across the country.

He thought it would be his only trip, but support from the community after his return fueled him to keep on driving.

“I was only going to do one trip. When I came back to Santa Cruz, they had eight tons of food and clothes in the driveway. A 35-foot RV in the driveway!” Reliford said.

Since then, Reliford has completed 57 trips across the country in his Peace Train, collecting, delivering and distributing goods to people in need. When he began, he didn’t intend to commit his life to providing aid, but now he has no plans of stopping.

The community of Santa Cruz was particularly essential to Reliford’s journey, and the source of many donations. The sizes of the contributions Reliford receives vary greatly, but can be substantial. For instance, the San Lorenzo Lumber & Home Center once gave him $56,000 worth of new building materials.

The types of donations that he seeks out aren’t random. Reliford ensures that the donations will be useful to the people that he plans to deliver them to by establishing communication about what their community is lacking before he makes his trips.

“People give politicians millions and millions of dollars and where does that money go?” Reliford said. “Man, if you give me just two percent of that, I will show you some changes.”  

Reliford has completed 57 trips to various places in the country, including the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, New Orleans and Standing Rock Reservation, to deliver donated food, clothes and other needed supplies. Photo by Christina Bulosan.

Besides the countless Louisiana residents who have benefitted from the societal changes  Reliford seeks to make, he has also provided aid to the thousands of people who gathered in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, migrant workers in Salinas and Watsonville and the houseless population. Most recently, he gathered nearly eight tons of food, clothes, and building material to bring to the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. In total, he estimates that he has collected approximately $100,000 worth of supplies for this particular trip.

Though Reliford is usually received well in the places that he visits, he is sometimes met with hostility, often manifesting as racial slurs.

“I get the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said. “I get more people inviting me and thanking me for what I’m doing, but it’s just that one or two that really don’t like peace.”

Reliford explained that he also encounters opposition from police officers, and frequently goes to court to challenge tickets. When he is met with what he describes as “intimidation,” he strives to stay unprovoked, silent and cooperative throughout the interaction.

“If you want to kill me, go ahead. If you want to arrest me, go ahead. But I’m not bowing down to that when you’re talking to me like I’ve robbed a bank,” Reliford said. “I take it to court and I explain it to the judge.”

Despite negative encounters, Reliford chooses to focus on inspiring positivity. Though his intention isn’t to get people involved in volunteer work, he often receives and appreciates the help of volunteers. These people primarily aid him in packaging donated goods, responding to emails, writing thank-you letters, updating his website and spreading joy through dancing on his Peace Train with him.

Reliford hopes to acquire more buses so he can continue making trips across the U.S. and expand the reach of the joy he aims to spread.

For more information related to the specific projects he’s been involved in, or to donate to his gofundme, visit http://www.santacruzpeacetrain.com.


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