ANNAPOLIS – A class of screaming kindergartners, a small pack of sun-baked family and friends, and one red-faced governor welcomed seven walkers and a dog to Annapolis on Tuesday.
The stop was one of many on the walkers’ planned trek from Ocean City to San Francisco to promote national unity and celebrate America’s diversity and national origins. The Unity Walkers, as they call themselves, plan to arrive in San Francisco on Oct. 10.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Anne Arundel Executive Janet S. Owens, Annapolis Mayor Dean Johnson, and U.S. Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark, D-Calif., who represents San Francisco, were among those who met the walkers on the campus of St. Johns College.
“We’re walking to manifest a spirit of unity, in the belief that from unity justice flows and from justice flows harmony and from harmony we can finally achieve peace in the nation,” said Paul Callens, a walker and organizer of the trek. The group hopes to pick up others along the way.
“For me, personally, this is a calling from God,” Callens said.
Callens, a 37-year-old teacher and performance artist from Annapolis, said he considered making a unity walk for quite some time, but what finally prompted the event was a Ku Klux Klan rally in Annapolis on February 7, 1998.
That same day in a nearby church, a group of concerned citizens responded to the KKK rally by planning for a national Unity Day.
“The Ku Klux Klan wanted to have a very divisive and hateful rally here in Annapolis, and in the name of free speech and the under the law we had to let them – no matter how silly or awful what they have to say is,” Glendening said.
“But we said, `If these people will gather in hatred then we’ll gather in love,'” Glendening said. The KKK was directed to rally under the statue of Thurgood Marshall in front of the Statehouse, Glendening said, laughing. Marshall was the first African American justice on the Supreme Court and a civil rights activist.
“I don’t believe they were smart enough to realize where they were,” Glendening said.
The unity walk could not have come at a better time for our country, Glendening said.
The United States is leading a NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia in an effort to stop massacres of ethnic Albanians by the Yugoslav government.
“Can you believe in this world that people are still killing each other over religion and last names and things that happened 1,000 years ago?” he said. “I think the president is right when he says we must fight to end this genocide, but we must also work at home.” The walk is sponsored by the Anne Arundel Community College, The Maryland State Teachers Association, ToadNet, and the YWCA.
“People need to see that legitimate organizations are associated with this. So often people think this is a fringe movement – a bunch of hippies going off,” said Dr. Deacon Ritterbush, the director of the Arch Initiative of the YWCA, Annapolis and Arundel County.
The other unity walkers are Ajax Joe Drayton, 37, of Mt. Rainer; Jude Rodgers, 57, of Annapolis; Kristie Wisniewski, 25, of Philadelphia; Kristie’s son, Jude Wisniewski, 3; and Callen’s Dalmatian, Sam, 7.
The walkers, including Sam and 3-year-old Jude, are keeping journals of their travels which can be read on their website, www.unityday.org. Each day they walk from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for little Jude who spends most of the time in a stroller. A converted 1979 school bus hauls their luggage and food, and travels about five miles ahead of them. Three of the walkers will earn their commercial bus license before they leave Maryland and will take turns driving the bus.
The group plans to sleep wherever they can.
“Whenever possible we’ll stay in homes, Callens said, “which gives us the opportunity for showers and doing laundry.”
Otherwise the walkers will camp in teepees and tents or stay in the bus in bad weather.
The next stop for the walkers is Washington where a 29-hour vigil will begin on the Mall.