WASHINGTON - It's no secret that activism takes time to work, but for John Boyd, it took half his lifetime.
The 45-year-old black farmer from Virginia became an activist in the 1980s after being denied a loan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That journey ended last week at the White House, when President Barack Obama signed into law $1.25 billion to settlediscrimination claims made by Boyd and 80,000 other black farmers.
"This is a perfect example of people who did not have any money but had a good story," Boyd said. "Between that and activism on the Hill, we were able to get something."
The founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association tried many tactics before he won, from riding a mule to D.C. to waiting for lawmakers at the Senate subway.
"You have to be a good activist if you don't have money," he said.
As Boyd wraps up 25 years of activism, he shares his recipe for success with Congress.org.
Creative protests: It would have been almost impossible for Boyd, a single activist, to attract the attention of Congress during his 1996 D.C. visit if he hadn't brought along a mule.
It took him 16 days to complete the journey from his farm to Capitol Hill. The unique protest got him so much attention that he repeated it again over the years, earning him ABC's designation as a "Person of the Week."
This summer, he tried a variation of the old tactic and drove a tractor around the National Mall.
"I used the tractor to show America that we are black farmers, and we are still trying to farm," he said. "I wanted to use that visual effect of a black man getting out of a tractor."
Media attention: Boyd knew that it would take more than one person to get Congress' attention. He used the mule and tractor to get media attention that raised awareness about his issue.
Not only did the media coverage put the issue on lawmakers' radar, it resulted in an outpouring of support.
"Most of America seemed to be very interested in what was going on with black farmers," he said.
Engaged activists: Many of Boyd's strongest supporters, other black farmers, got too old for the regular D.C. lobbying trips over the years. So Boyd looked for other ways to engage them in the fight, such as calling Congress at a key moment.
"I had their support, even if it was just signing on to a letter," he said. "I appreciated every organization that signed on to letters. I appreciated the farmers in Mississippi and Alabama who couldn't get to Congress but made calls when they could. All those people played a role."
Committed lawmakers: Through his sheer persistence, Boyd became a well-recognized face on the Hill. Instead of scheduling meeting with staffers, he staked out the Senate subway and waited for face time with lawmakers.
When one showed interest, he made it clear that verbal support wasn't enough.
"A lot of lawmakers gave me the party line, which is when I began to ask the hard questions, like, 'How are you supporting this,'" he said.
It didn't hurt that the lawmaker who showed interest in Boyd's cause went on to become president. As senator, Obama sponsored legislation to reopen the discrimination claims and put $100 million in the farm bill to start the process.
As president, he increased that amount by $1.15 billion and, last week, signed the funding into law.
Strategic lobbying: Two decades of lobbying have taught Boyd a lot about the legislative process. He learned to change up his activism strategy as the issue advanced.
At times, Boyd pressured the lawmakers who supported him to take action. But at other moments, he worked alongside those same lawmakers to win over the critics.
And to get skeptics on board, he had to compromise.
"We had to massage the bill to get Republicans on board," he said. "Right up until the president signed the bill, people said this is never going to happen."