Shawn Dromgoole is a twenty-nine-year-old black man who has lived in the same Nashville neighborhood his entire life. His family has been in the neighborhood known as 12 South for fifty-four years. Ever since he was a child he felt unease in his home town, acutely aware that few people looked like him.
Dromgoole, who was recently furloughed from his job at Nordstrom as a logistics processor, said, “Growing up in my neighborhood I could always feel the eyes, the looks and the cars slowing down as they passed by me.” As a young man, Dromgoole watched from his window as the neighborhood gradually gentrified before his eyes. Black families moved out and white families moved in. With each passing year, he felt more and more unwelcome.
These feelings increased in recent weeks when he heard about Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was jogging in Georgia when he was shot to death, and then George Floyd, a black man killed while in police custody in Minneapolis.
“What happened to these men could easily happen to me,” said Dromgoole, and he admitted he became scared to walk off his own porch.
There were also frequent postings on Nextdoor, an app that connects neighbors, warning residents to look out for “suspicious black men” he said. Consumed with fear, Dromgoole took to Facebook and Nextdoor deciding to finally share his own post. “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,” he wrote.
Unexpectedly, responses from his community started pouring in—neighbors he had never heard from or spoken to started reaching out, saying they wanted to walk with him. Last Thursday afternoon Dromgoole notified his neighbors that he was going for a walk at 6pm and anyone who wanted to join him was welcome.
Dromgoole tied his shoes, ventured off his porch, and walked to the meeting spot in a nearby parking lot. There he found seventy-five people waiting for him. He said, “I was so overwhelmed. I still can’t find the words. I never wrote that post thinking people would want to walk with me.” The group strolled for almost an hour with Dromgoole leading the way. “It was the most amazing feeling,” he said. “Everyone wore masks so you just saw a sea of people and couldn’t even tell what color skin they had.”
In some way this is similar to the activities I participated in many years ago when Father Groppi led a march from Milwaukee to Madison, Wisconsin. Since there were hundreds of people participating, there was no fear. This story of Shawn Dromgoole and his community gives me hope during this time. Dear reader, what feelings does it evoke in you? If you have come across or been involved in any similar experiences, sharing would be much appreciated!