Reflections on walking and talking health equity pilgrimage through 3 Southern states
The takeaway from those 29 memory-packed days, from Myrtle Beach to Knoxville, is the overwhelming kindness shown to a stranger.
Out on the road, I was not Dr. Godby. I was just a stranger passing through. A stranger that always looked out of place, often appeared homeless, and periodically seemed ridiculous compared to the way locals appeared in public. I often reflected on the opportunity that being a white male afforded me to make this 605 mile journey without the fear of safety that some women and people of color might have had to endure, regardless of their physical resilience or stamina. The walk reaffirmed my belief that most people will help strangers if given an opportunity, especially if they are approached humbly, gratefully, and respectfully. I reaffirmed that people are also generous.
44 YEARS OF PILGRIMAGES
While walking across the country, in and of itself, will not increase health equity, what I have experienced in 44 years of doing these kind of pilgrimages is that people have a tendency to trust the messenger, and open their hearts to the message, because the method of advocacy seems sincere. The thinking goes something like this: if somebody is going to go to these lengths to deliver a message, maybe I should at least pay attention. This was very evident even with US senators in 2011 when my two sons, nephew and I testified about Naturopathic Medicine on Capitol Hill during The Run across the USA.
One of the goals of Walk USA for Health Equity is to increase awareness of the term Health Equity. Although the disparities and inequities in health outcomes for “essential” workers, the elderly, and people of color were often highlighted during the pandemic there is much education and conversation needed around the term. The conversations I had during the first leg of The Walk allowed me to engage in discussion and get a pulse on the everyday American’s awareness and concern for equitable healthcare for all. Every person I spoke to, without exception, whether they had heard the term health equity or not, seemed to embrace the idea. It seemed kind of a “no-brainer” to most. Of course, the “devil is in the details,” but at a minimum, health equity as a concept was being promoted. Without exception, people across the board feel that all Americans deserve the chance to live a optimally healthy life.
WHAT IS HEALTH EQUITY?
It is when “everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be optimally healthy. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education, and housing, safe environments, and health care.”
Throughout the walk, especially toward the beginning, I would occasionally wonder if I had been ridiculous to fly to the east coast, to begin walking across the USA for health equity. I mean, does anybody really care? Is this making any difference at all? At times like these I would remind myself that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said 6 decades ago, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” I am in agreement and this is why I am walking and talking. As a Naturopathic Doctor, health equity doesn’t mean just fair access to conventional medicine, but to preventive, natural, and lifestyle medicine.
I was continually reminded that local connections are crucial to the efficacy of my efforts. Where we had local connections, like in Myrtle Beach and Chapel Hill, media came out for the event. Building connections between those you know and their local connections in the towns we pass through will be heavily emphasized for leg 2. If you, or people you know, live in Knoxville, TN; Louisville, Frankfort and Lexington, Kentucky; West Lafayette, Indianapolis and Valparaiso University, Indiana; Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, please let me know.
People have asked and wondered about safety on the highway. It was certainly a concern, but with hypervigilance, wearing reflective clothing and, listening attentively to cars coming both from behind and those approaching on busy two-lane highways with little to no shoulder I quickly developed a strategy, I waved at approaching cars and trucks with a friendly, but what appeared as a warning signal (with one waving arm, and waving my hat under extreme circumstances) and it made a huge difference. Thus, the stranger acting strange.
This walk inspired many people! I am extremely grateful for all the wonderful and adorable people I met along the way. The Naturopathic Doctors I met, and or stayed with along the route, really ensured that I felt supported and provided me with good cheer, a sense of camaraderie and the encouragement I needed to continue. I am also elated about how my body and mind responded to the 22 miles per day, and I definitely look forward to next year’s walk from Knoxville, TN, to Milwaukee, WI.
NEXT LEG OF JOURNEY
I am excited to find out how you will choose to participate in next year’s walk which begins tentatively on September 5, 2023. What can you do today, and in the coming weeks and year, to help this nation to achieve health equity? Are you going to vote in the coming election? Can you spread the health equity message? Will you help us on Instagram and Facebook? There are so many things we can do to help achieve a more health equitable nation. Please speak to your friends, colleagues and families along the Leg 2 route to find out how they would like to get involved.
While I am overjoyed with the results of Leg 1, we have only just begun. Will you help us? We are building a team.