Shawn Marcus Dromgoole's family has lived in the same Nashville neighborhood for 56 years. One day he found himself afraid to go for a walk.
"I had a full-blown panic attack; there was a forcefield in front of this porch," Dromgoole said. "I couldn't get past this step."
Dromgoole says he didn't want to be the end of his family line.
"I was 21 when Trayvon Martin died. I had lived past Tamir Rice. I lived past all these news stories, and I became terrified that I was going to be a news story number," he said.
He felt frustrated that he didn't feel safe in the neighborhood he's lived his entire life.
"On Nextdoor, there were posts constantly about 'suspicious-looking Black man walking down the street,'" Dromgoole said. "There were incidents where the police would stop me and ask me to show ID."
So, he also went on Nextdoor posting that he couldn't go for a walk in his own neighborhood because he was scared for his life. The response from his community in Nashville was overwhelming. Hundreds of people gathered to go for a walk with Dromgoole.
"In the midst of ugly presidential elections and ugly racial issues, people still showed up to get to know their neighbors," Dromgoole said. "And it was so moving. And for the past two years, that's what we've done. We've walked we walked together nine states. We walked with two people or 200 people."
He's walked in states like New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Ohio. People like Bryard Huggins and Joyce Shulman have hosted Dromgoole for a community walk. Bryard Huggins is a composer and producer with Muse Entertainment. He hosted a walk in Pennsylvania and wrote a song called Walk With Me which was inspired by Dromgoole's walks.
"What Shawn is doing that I believe is super important is he's raising awareness of that fear that nobody should have to worry about," Huggins said.
Joyce Shulman hosted a walk in New York. She's a founder of 99 Walks & Jetti Fitness and she wrote the book Walk Your Way to Better.
"Work around building community, the work around disrupting the loneliness epidemic, the work towards dismantling institutionalized and community racism, all of that work is going to take a long time," Shulman said. "You got to play the long game. And what Shawn is doing on this deeply personal. Grassroots community kind of basis, I believe, is one of the critical elements of making that happen."
Dromgoole says it's not a protest but rather a way to way to connect with your neighbors.
"He calls it the walk sound, which I love so much," Shulman said. "Those conversations that happen when people start walking together."
His goal is to do a walk in every state to help end racial profiling.
"We're in the process of forming it into a nonprofit that's called More Than a Walk," Dromgoole said.
He says this is God's calling for him, and he has so much hope in humanity that change can happen.
"If this is what I have to do to make sure that no one feels scared to walk in the neighborhood again, I'll do it for the rest of my life," Dromgoole said.
The song provided in this story is as follows:
“Walk With Me”
Written and composed by Bryard Huggins
Produced by Bryard Huggins with Muse Entertainment
Performed by Myshel
Mastered by Moses Mastering
Available on all digital platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes…)