Man to promote unity on coast-to-coast walk

Maryland activist plans to cross nation on foot using U.S. 50

January 24, 1999|By E. B. Furgurson | E. B. Furgurson,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

His route is drawn in colored pencil on a Rand-McNally road atlas -- the ultimate road trip, U.S. 50, coast to coast, Ocean City to San Francisco.

Like many a man planning a road trip, Paul Callens worries about money and finding places to stay along the way, but at least he won't have car trouble.

He is walking, for a cause.

The cause is the adoption of a national Unity Day on Oct. 10 -- sort of an Earth Day for humanity. Callens and three other activists, who leave Ocean City on March 22, are walking the 3,200-mile route to encourage people nationwide to join together to heal political, cultural, racial, religious and gender divisions.

The idea came to him years ago. It is part New Age spiritual -- "People need to find peace within themselves, and then with their family and community," Callens said -- and part '60s political, recalling the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama.

But it has been only in the past couple of years that the vision has taken shape. Callens had become involved in the Annapolis Rap Sessions in Eastport founded by his friend Larry Griffin, whose We Care organization started feeding homeless and poor people during the holiday season several years ago.

Flash of inspiration

Callens surprised even himself when it was his turn to talk about his New Year's resolutions at the December 1997 rap session. He told the group he would walk across the country.

When the Ku Klux Klan scheduled a rally at Lawyer's Mall in front of the State House in February 1998, police, working with Griffin's organization and community activists, hatched the Unity Day counter-rally and gave Callens the name for his walk.

The walk was scheduled to begin in Ocean City on March 21 because that day is the spring equinox. He hopes to finish Oct. 10 in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Callens said he plans to walk 22 miles per day, five days a week.

Sponsors and contacts

Every Sunday along the way, one of two rest days per week, participants will encourage community participation in what Callens says will be a celebration of common bonds. He means discussion, music and performances intended to bring people together.

Unity Walk has garnered support from sponsors with connections across the country that could provide Callens and fellow walkers with food and shelter, and raise interest in the project along the route.

College boosts effort

Anne Arundel Community College is sponsoring the project and, through its membership in the National Association of Colleges, has provided a list of every member school within 15 miles of U.S. 50. The committee is contacting those schools for logistics support and possible event planning.

The YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County has signed on, as have the Maryland State Teachers Association; its parent, the National Education Association; and the Providence Center, which trains and employs the disabled.

Retired YWCA Director Barbara Hale is the walk committee's executive director, running the planning, logistics and mailing operations from her home office.

"The YWCA was a co-sponsor of the Unity Day march against the KKK, and Paul came to talk to me about his vision," said Hale, who worked at the Y for 27 years. "Since I had retired, I said I would help. I am doing it gladly."

The walkers will stop outside Cambridge, some 66 miles from the beginning of the trek, for lunch and prayer at the birthplace of Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist who helped run the Underground Railroad.

At the 90-mile marker, participants will rally at the Wye Mills Conference Center, site of last year's Middle East peace talks. Representatives of Palestinian and Jewish organizations have been invited to participate.

Easter in Washington

The end of the first leg will be Easter weekend in Washington. Unity Walk plans a vigil at the White House on Good Friday, April 2, and has secured a permit to rally on the National Mall in front of the Capitol for the next two days.

The convergence of Easter and the 31st anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination April 4 "gives a power to the march as it heads off across the country," Hale said.

Unity Walk also is setting up a World Wide Web site so that schoolchildren and others can monitor the group's progress.

But with virtually no money, Unity Walk and Callens will set off from Ocean City armed mostly with faith. That is part of the appeal, said Hale.

"We will start anyway, on faith that the walk will generate increasing interest," she said. "It is gratifying to see how this idea touches people. And people are starting to volunteer."

Callens said Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens and Carl O. Snowden, a former Annapolis alderman now on Owens' staff and the walk's board of directors, will walk with him as the group traverses the area. Annapolis Alderman Cynthia A. Carter and 20 others have signed up to walk from Ocean City to Washington.

"I think this is a wonderful thing, especially coming out of Annapolis," Snowden said. "I hope to be able to mobilize resources and encourage other organizations to get involved."

Callens said factors leading to a fragmented nation are "so huge, so daunting, that people unwittingly contribute to the problem."

"I am just trying to wake them up," he said. "It's easy to promote unity when the Klan is coming to town. The challenge is to be able to do it in a positive manner and on a regular basis.

"Some cultures consider walking a prayerful act."

Pub Date: 1/24/99

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