'Thirty miles a day': They're walking 750 miles to arrive in DC on 57th anniversary of MLK's 'I Have A Dream' speech
CHICAGO — About 40 people on foot, riding bikes and perched atop graffitied cars paraded through Chicago's North Side on Thursday evening. Children skipped and hung out car windows with their fists in the air. Drivers honked and blasted music as pedestrians clapped and cheered the passing caravan.
The diverse group of men, women and children was three days into a 750-mile march from Milwaukee to Washington, D.C., planned to coincide with the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech on Aug. 28.
"When George Floyd died 69 days ago, we began to march in Milwaukee," said community activist and violence interrupter Frank Nitty, who helped organize the march. "We had already been marching 15-20 miles a day. I wanted to keep that streak going."
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The march, which hopes to bring awareness to racial inequity and police brutality, stepped off in Milwaukee on Tuesday with about 20 participants, aiming to complete 31 miles a day. The group stayed overnight in Zion, Illinois, on Tuesday, then in Winnetka, Illinois, on Wednesday, Nitty said. They hoped to reach Indiana by Thursday night.
Milwaukee resident Sandy Solomon, 49, said she pulled a calf muscle on the first day and had to briefly sit out in one of the cars to wrap her leg. Then she kept walking.
"The biggest thing that most of us are dealing with is that our feet are sore, so we got some Epsom salt and we’re going to get some foot tubs and soak them at night," Solomon said.
Marchers were keeping food, luggage and other supplies in the trunks of their cars, and Nitty's son and other teens occasionally handed out snacks and water bottles to marchers or those on the curb in need of food.
Nitty said the group initially planned to set up camp at night or rent an RV, but he ended up paying for hotel rooms for the first night. On the second night, when the group had grown to 25, someone tracking the march on social media paid for their hotel rooms, said Nitty, who has been posting Facebook Live videos to his 80,000 followers.
Most of the meals have been donated, and people on foot and in cars have periodically linked up with march. Minutes before, a woman had run over and handed Nitty a blow horn and some cash. While the group doesn't have any official name or affiliation, it supports the mission of the Black Lives Matter movement, Nitty said.
"We got some people who had only what they had on and joined just with that," Nitty said as a middle-aged woman began walking with the group. "It's been amazing going through these small towns and have people coming out to help and march for awhile."
Nitty said the group plans out its specific route about five days in advance, with a general intention to avoid highways but still pass through major cities.
"We’re taking streets the whole way," Nitty said. "We’re going to make sure we go through neighborhoods and communities — mainly suburban communities that don’t have to deal with this issue, and let them know that they’re not going to get no sleep until Black lives matter. We want to be peaceful, but we also want to be a disruption. We don’t want people to be comfortable with what’s going on. There’s no comfort in Black lives not mattering."
For Milwaukee-based victims advocate Tory Lowe, marching from Chicago to Milwaukee is nothing new. He said he has been doing it every year for the last five years to protest police brutality. Three weeks ago, Nitty approached Lowe and asked him if he was interested in going a little further.
"We're not going to stop," Lowe said. "We’re going to continue until the injustice in America is dealt with properly."
But walking the walk hasn't been easy so far, Lowe said.
"Thirty miles a day — world classes athletes wouldn’t walk 30 miles a day for 24 days," he said. "We’re doing something that most people wouldn’t even attempt, and we’re doing it together."
This year's anniversary of the historic march comes in the wake of a series of worldwide protests condemning police brutality and calling for criminal justice reform. In June, the Rev. Al Sharpton announced he was organizing a march in Washington on the anniversary to "restore and recommit that dream."
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"We're going back to Washington," Sharpton declared when giving his eulogy at the funeral of Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground with his knee. "We need to go back to Washington and stand up — Black, white, Latino, Arab in the shadows of Lincoln and tell them, ‘This is the time to stop this.'"
Martin Luther King III, attorney Benjamin Crump and families of police brutality victims were expected to attend the march under the rallying call "Get Your Knee Off Our Necks." The families of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner planned to speak at the event, according to the National Action Network.
Amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, the NAACP this week launched a website for a "virtual march" to provide a "series of events and activities to recommit to the dream Dr. Martin Luther King defined in the 1963 march, to call for police accountability and reform, and to mobilize voters ahead of the November elections," according to an NAACP press release.
Contributing: Ricardo Torres, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Savannah Behrmann, USA TODAY