After Black Man Shares He's Afraid To Walk Alone, Hundreds of Neighbors Stepped In -- Literally

Shawn Dromgoole via Instagram and Facebook

Shawn Dromgoole
Shawn Dromgoole via Instagram and Facebook

By now, it's clear that George Floyd's death did more than just spark nationwide protests and a call for police reform. It also reignited a much-needed conversation about the dark parts of the Black experience and the role white Americans play in repairing racial inequalities. But if the touching story of Shawn Dromgoole is any evidence, it appears many Americans are taking that call to heart.

  • It all started back in May, just days after Floyd's death rocked America.

    Dromgoole, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, took to Facebook and the local app Nextdoor to share something he'd never admitted aloud before: He was afraid to walk alone in his own neighborhood. 

    Not because it was dangerous or because he felt threatened by his neighbors. (In fact, the Washington Post reported that Dromgoole, 29, has lived with his family in the same Nashville neighborhood for the past 24 years.)

    Instead, his fear came from knowing all too well that the sight of a Black man walking alone in the US can often bring with it a wave of suspicion. It may warrant some to become fearful and call the cops -- like what happened to bird watcher Chris Cooper in Central Park. Or it may end in violence, as with Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while jogging.

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  • "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."

    "Today I wanted to walk again and I could not make it off the porch," Dromgoole continued. "Then I called my mother Lynetra Lynne Dunn and she said she would walk with me. I still kept my ID on me and my phone in my hand but I walked."

    If the concept of a grown man being afraid to walk through his neighborhood sounds shocking, it's far from unique for many Black Americans. (In fact, California dad Shola Richards admitted something similar in a Facebook post that went viral back in June.)

    It's a very real fear that Dromgoole said he'd begun to live with over the years, as his neighborhood slowly gentrified and Black families moved away. At the same time, he began to see more and more posts about "suspicious" Black men, which made him think twice about going for a stroll.

    "A couple of years ago, the police stopped me for walking while Black and they followed me home to make sure that I lived in the neighborhood," Dromgoole told WBUR. "The neighborhood has changed that much."

  • It's fair to say that Dromgoole expected to deal with this fear for the rest of his life. That is, until his neighbors (quite literally) stepped in.

    To Dromgoole's surprise, he started getting messages from people within his own community -- some of whom he'd never even met. They all had one request: Could they walk with him?

    "Neighbor, after neighbor, after neighbor started reaching out, telling me they wanted to walk with me," Dromgoole later told the Washington Post.

    He was floored.

  • Just days after his first post, Dromgoole posted again, informing his neighbors that he was taking a walk at 6 p.m. if anyone would like to join him.

    And boy, did they.

    To his surprise, 75 people were there to greet him -- all wearing masks and ready to take a walk through the neighborhood.

    "I was so overwhelmed, I still can't find the words," Dromgoole said. "I never wrote that post thinking people would want to walk with me."

    For the next hour, they walked together, as Dromgoole led the way.

    “It was the most amazing feeling," he told the newspaper. "Everyone was in masks, so you just saw a sea of people, and you couldn't even tell what color skin they had."

  • In the days and weeks that have followed, more and more people joined in.

    On good days, they've drawn a crowd of hundreds, though masks and social distancing are always required. 

    But the walks have become more than just a new neighborhood tradition -- they've become something of a movement. It's called #WalkWithShawn (and it's even got merch!).

    "We want to be clear that these walks aim to raise awareness concerning the effects of gentrification on Black and brown people in urban communities, because being a 'good neighbor' means understanding how our actions and presence impact the lives of those who surround us and no one should be afraid to walk (or run) alone," Dromgoole wrote June 6 on Facebook.

  • Drumgoole has also been working on organizing similar walks in other parts of the country, in a larger campaign he calls #WalkWithMe.

    He's hoping to head to places with ties to many of the unarmed Black men who have died at the hands of gun violence in recent years -- such as Brunswick, Georgia, where Ahmaud Arbery was killed and Miami Gardens, Florida, where Trayvon Martin lived before his death.

    "The walks will continue in different locations throughout the course of the year with added emphasis on voting rights, mental health for Black and brown communities, combating anti-blackness and systemic racism, and financial support for Black and brown renters and homeowners," he explained in his posts.

    "Proceeds will go directly towards sustaining and organizing future walks and supporting grassroots organizations in participating cities whose missions align with those listed above -- voting rights, mental health resources for Black and brown communities, combating anti-blackness and systemic racism, and financial support for Black and brown renters and homeowners," he wrote.

  • For now, Dromgoole continues to stand in awe of the movement that he started more than a month ago, simply by being honest about his experience.

    He hopes it doesn't slow down any time soon.

    "I want to walk for everyone who is afraid and alone," he told CBS News in June. "Everyone's a neighbor -- all you have to do is step off your porch -- if you express yourself the world can change."

    If you'd like to contribute to #WalkWithMe, you can donate via Dromgoole's GoFundMe page here.