Shawn Dromgoole, a 29-year-old Black man, has lived in the 12 South neighborhood of Nashville his entire life. His family first moved there 54 years ago, and over the decades, the neighborhood has seen a drastic amount of change.
As the area began to gentrify, rising home prices drove away many of the Black families who once lived there. And as white families began to move in, Dromgoole began to gradually feel more and more out of place in his own neighborhood.
“Growing up in my neighborhood, I could always feel the eyes, the looks, and the cars slowing down as they passed by me,” Dromgoole told the Washington Post.
However, in the wake of recent current events such as the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot to death while jogging, as well as the shooting deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others—for the first time in his life Dromgoole began feeling downright unsafe in his neighborhood.
And frequent posts on apps like Nextdoor from residents who warned neighbors to be on the lookout for “suspicious black men” certainly did not help. So Dromgoole decided to share a post of his own.
On both Facebook and Nextdoor, Dromgoole wrote the following message about how tensions had escalated to the point that he was afraid to simply leave his home to go out for a walk.
“Yesterday I wanted to walk around my neighborhood but The fear of not returning home to my family alive kept me on my front porch,” Dromgoole wrote. “Today I wanted to walk again and I could not make it off the porch. Then I called my mother and she said she would walk with me. I still kept my ID on me and my phone in my hand but I walked. #Icantbreath #icantsleep #icantwalk”
Incredibly, Dromgoole quickly saw an outpouring of support. Neighbors who he had never even met began volunteering to go for a walk with him. “Neighbor, after neighbor, after neighbor started reaching out, telling me they wanted to walk with me,” he said.
So, he took them up on it. One day Dromgoole decided to go for a walk and alerted his neighbors that they were welcome to join him. To his absolute shock, 75 people were waiting for him!
“I was so overwhelmed, I still can’t find the words. I never wrote that post thinking people would want to walk with me,” Dromgoole told the Post. “It was the most amazing feeling. Everyone was in masks, so you just saw a sea of people, and you couldn’t even tell what color skin they had.”
The group walked for nearly an hour together, wearing masks as Dromgoole led the way. He’s since bonded with some of his neighbors, who have continued going on walks together.
Now, he hopes that his story will encourage others to walk together, in solidarity and strength, by turning his experience into a nationwide phenomenon.
“He wants to take his walks across the nation, starting in Brunswick, Ga., where Arbery was killed; Miami Gardens, Fla., where Trayvon Martin lived before he was fatally shot in 2012; and Cleveland, where Tamir Rice’s life was taken in 2014.”
“I finally feel seen. I feel like I’m a part of something,” he said. “Because when you walk with your neighbors—and you know they really see you—the world becomes a better place.”