On June 24, 2020, Paul Chavez and his friend James Alan Thompson set out from San Francisco on the journey of a lifetime. They intended to walk across the United States to Washington, D.C. Their relief driver was Katrina Dobieski.
The trio was motivated by the unrest around them at the time. A global pandemic was ravaging the country. Racial unrest and demonstrations across the country were triggered by repeated police shootings of unarmed black men.
The horrific loss of life, the Black Lives Matter movement, racial and political strife dominated the national news.
Chavez and Thompson wanted to make a big statement to promote peace in a nonpolitical way and promote thoughts about kindness instead of anger and violence.
People said they were crazy, but they went anyway. They averaged about 20 miles of walking each day.
Why walk? Because they wanted to make connections across the country in a more personal way. In blog entries on their website, walkforpeace2020.org, the group details acts of kindness and what they call small miracles – people often providing just what they needed at just the right time, unasked.
Having a relief driver meant they did not have to literally walk every mile of the trip. They made it all the way to our nation’s capital, but they were in Washington, D.C,. on Jan. 6, which was unfortunate timing. They detoured to Virginia Beach, where they saw the Atlantic Ocean as they completed their journey.
Because Heather Nefferdorf Brooks and her family, including her sister April, had reached out online during the journey and offered the group support – including a Christmas feast enjoyed in Annapolis – the trio made a quick visit to Salisbury courtesy of Brooks, Kindness Commission organizer Grace Foxwell Murdock and a host of Salisbury residents who turned up at various stops along the city tour to cheer them on. The weary travelers spent Thursday and part of Friday in Salisbury and were greeted with open arms – safely masked and distanced, of course.
Chavez, Thompson and Dobieski said Salisbury was the only place where they were greeted with such fanfare, although they had been welcomed in many stops along the way.
“The group was provided a room courtesy of the Marriott Courtyard on Route 13 North in Salisbury,” said Murdock. “They entered a room filled with donations from the community – pies, balloons, homemade cookies, a homemade welcome sign made by Savannah Brooks, Heather’s daughter, a fruit basket and toiletries, and flowers.”
Their busy schedule Thursday began at Olde Towne Cafe on Division Street across from the Government Office Building and historic Wicomico County Courthouse, where they were treated to breakfast. They stopped for a photo in front of the banners hanging from the downtown Parking Garage, visited the Believe mural on Market Street, visited the Riverwalk and Maryland’s only PRIDE crosswalk, located in front of the Wicomico Public Library. They viewed public art throughout the downtown area and visited Roadie Joe’s for lunch. They were shown the city’s Edible Garden near the Mill Street bridge downtown and walked past the beautiful historic churches of Newtown. They were shown Black Lives Matter Boulevard and the Church Street mural on Route 13.
They were given a tour of the Camden Community Garden, Wicomico Presbyterian Church with the Community Emergency Shelter Project just behind the church. They even visited the Opportunity Shop, a thrift shop ministry of Asbury United Methodist Church.
“Salisbury seems like a little slice of heaven,” Chavez said, while Thompson said he’s planning to return for the next National Folk Festival in Salisbury, bringing his father along for the trip.
The pair left Salisbury Friday and finally headed home, bringing their nearly seven-month journey to a close.
“They will take the story of Salisbury’s kindness back across the country with them,” Murdock said. “Anytime we have the opportunity to share Salisbury’s kindness, it’s a wonderful thing. We hope other cities will be inspired, using Salisbury as a role model.”