A Legacy of Riding for Human Rights

By Nathan dos Santos

Jeffrey Heller is not your everyday lawyer/writer/registered nurse extraordinaire, though the combination might already put him in a class of his own. A passionate advocate for human rights, Jeffrey has dedicated his life to combating prejudice and raising awareness about refugees and migrants in the United States. It was his first case with Human Rights First back in 1983 in defense of Haitian refugees that ignited his desire to engage in one-on-one conversations with Americans, to help dispel misconceptions about these vulnerable populations. Since then, Jeffrey’s commitment to refugee and migrant rights has blossomed into his Annual Ride, a remarkable fundraising event now in its 12th year.

The idea began from the somewhat-impulsive decision to ride his bike to his daughter’s graduation from New York City to Iowa, a whim that soon transformed into a yearly adventure: Jeffrey’s Annual Ride. Since his first ride, Jeffrey has biked across a total of 48 states. With Joey, the puppet kangaroo by his side, Jeffrey shares real stories of refugees, emphasizing the urgent need for protection from persecution and hardship. By giving a voice to the experiences of those seeking asylum, he showcases the critical work done by Human Rights First, highlighting our extraordinary success rate of over 90% in securing asylum for refugees.

Be it in the backroads of Appalachia or the wilds of the Mojave Desert, Jeffrey’s encounters during the Annual Ride have exposed him to countless marginalized communities, leaving a profound impact on his understanding of not only the global refugee crisis but the striking social inequalities within our borders.

Despite the societal struggles and personal challenges faced along the way, Jeffrey is awed every year by the overwhelming kindness and generosity of the people he encounters. Above all, meeting people from all walks of life has reaffirmed his belief in not judging a book by its cover—political differences included. A quick chat often reveals a deep sympathy and support for refugees as they work to construct their own path in the U.S.

Now at its close, Jeffrey traveled 1,500 miles on his 13th Annual Ride for Human Rights, traveling through Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, and beyond, leaving behind a trail of meaningful conversations. The Annual Ride stands as a testament to the power of personal connections when changing the hearts and minds of fellow Americans, encouraging open-mindedness and a welcoming spirit. Refugees and migrants are our neighbors. Jeffrey knows this and has committed to a life in service of others to help spread this message.

Fundraising for the 2023 Annual Ride is still in full drive–help Jeffrey and Joey reach a historic half-million dollar milestone this month by donating here.



  • Nathan dos Santos

Published on June 9, 2023


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