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Serious message . . . White Ribbon Rider Blair McKenzie, of Nelson was welcomed to Gore yesterday by mayor Tracy Hicks.

A strong message by a strong team – White Ribbon Riders from all over New Zealand went to Longford Intermediate School yesterday to spread the message: “You can change”.

The White Ribbon Ride is a week-long motorcycle tour advocating to end men’s violence towards women.

White Ribbon Rider Blair McKenzie, of Nelson, said he had grown up in an abusive and violent household.

“My father relentlessly abused not only myself, but my brothers, nephews and great nephews, and I left home at 17 years old, encouraged by my mother to get out.”

Although he had a successful business as a photographer, the abuse during his younger years came back to unsettle him.

The reality of life with marriage, mortgage, running a business and stress turned Mr McKenzie into a man he never wanted to become.

“Suddenly I became this destructive person, drinking, smoking, having an explosive anger, and I realised I had become the very person I despised and hated.”

Mr McKenzie said he turned his life around at the age of 32.

“You can change, and a big part of change is forgiveness.

“I had to forgive my dad.”

It was the ninth year Mr McKenzie had been involved with the White Ribbon Riders.

“It is so encouraging to see our visual and printed media stressing that it [violence] is not OK. We are talking about it now, and exposing it, where before it all happened behind closed doors.”

Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks welcomed riders to town.

He said abuse was a disease and society was now showing the courage to say “enough”.

“We all need a dream.”

Sergeant Hua Tamariki said there was support for people who wanted to change.

“Support and health – we have people we can talk to, whether friends, family, teachers, coaches. There is support in our communities.

“Everyone needs to have goals and self-worth,” he said.

The riders headed to Gore Main School before carrying on to Invercargill.