This Man Walked Every Street In DC While Carrying A BLM Sign
As a child, he felt more comfortable sitting with unanswered questions in his head than raising his hand to ask them. And later he joined the military, where he wore uniforms designed to make him blend in and not stand out. He was comfortable with it.
But after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis in May 2020 and protesters began filling the streets, Woodward no longer felt comfortable staying comfortable. He had spent the previous two years intentionally trying to have conversations with people whose backgrounds and life experiences were different from his own, and he decided to push that effort further. He called a friend in the print shop and asked him to create two large billboards with the words: “Black and Brown Lives Matter”.
They arrived at Woodward’s home in Germantown, Maryland, on a Saturday. And on Sunday, May 31, 2020, he drove to the district, slung those signs around his shoulders, and started walking.
“There was a belief mixed with fear,” recalls Woodward, who works for the US Navy. “Both existed at the same time. The only reason I was there was because of this belief. I was like, ‘I have to do something, and I don’t have money, I don’t have connections, so what can I do?’
That day, the his Instagram page, Woodward wrote about his march and vowed to walk every street and alley in the nation’s capital while carrying those signs. He used the #EveryStreetDC hashtag.
“I want to make sure that this message is not forgotten by ANYBODY!” he wrote. “As a middle-aged white male, I can deliver this message with little harassment where others’ experience would be more difficult. trouble with this message, we can talk.
Maybe you saw Woodward walking. If so, you may have assumed he was a Liberal or a Democrat. You might have thought he’s a longtime racial justice campaigner who once held up signs. You may have taken it for granted that the words he wears on his chest have long been etched in his mind. You wouldn’t be the only one to think that, but you would be wrong.
In this first Instagram post, Woodward describes his journey as follows: “I am 50 years old and have had my eyes opened to the truth of America’s history over the past few years. 2018 was my first election where I did not vote a direct ticket Conservative. I voted for Trump in 2016. I am a US Navy veteran. I am a follower of Jesus.
Woodward is an evangelical Christian who grew up without questioning the Church. He is the child of a Republican who for decades consistently voted along party lines. He is a military veteran who, until recent years, never doubted the version of the country’s history he learned or wondered what he hadn’t learned.
“If you check all those boxes, I’m not the guy who would walk down the street,” he says. He considered wearing a hat with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan on his walks to let people into that part of his identity, but decided against it. “That’s not who I am today. This tumultuous change that I went through and grew up in has undermined and challenged every single one of my identities, my primary identities. So, yeah, it was a legit upset.
When people hold up signs, it’s to say something. It’s to be heard. But for Woodward, the signs he wears offer him a chance to listen. He calculated the total distance he would need to cover – over 2,000 miles – and the progress he would need to make each weekend – at least 20 miles – to finish in less than two years. But the one factor he accepted he couldn’t control was the number of conversations he would have along the way and the length of each one. These talks, he says, are his main focus for walks.
Each time he explores a new part of town, he posts an update that offers a tally of the miles he’s covered and glimpses of the people he’s spoken with along the way. Read one after the other, these posts provide a close-up view of a city where people can live for decades and never know people outside of their neighborhood.
Rachel was in her alley taking out the trash and asked what protest I was heading to. She talks to her children about racism and wonders how to talk with her 80-year-old mother. She struggles with wanting peace in the family, not being sure she has the perfect explanation, and having little hope that her mother will change her mind.
Gerald took a break to check his oil in his truck before a quick trip to Delaware to discuss my project. He remembers being 21 years old and driving from New York to DC in his new BMW and being pulled over 8 times for no reason. An officer told him that as a cop he couldn’t afford such a nice car. I still don’t know how one should respond to such a statement.
Ciiru has a strong Christian faith. She knows the scriptures, but what she hears from the pulpit gives her a strong sense that the church will provide more protection for her black child as an unborn child than when her child is born. This statement shook me.
A white woman got into her car, looked at my sign and said, “yes, but you agree that there should be standards”. I had no category for this statement, it left me speechless and haunted me for the rest of the day.
Three Latino guys were cleaning the gutters on the pinnacle of a big house and shouted a thank you. I told the guy with the sprawling eagle on the roof line, forty feet in the air, that he was way braver than me. His colleague replied, “we are all brave in different ways” and told me to stay safe.
Stephen “Dusty” Barksdale II was in an alley with his son, Micah Barksdale-Edwards, when they met Woodward. Micah, who was riding a bike, first noticed Woodward.
“What does the sign say? Barksdale recalls Micah, who was 5 at the time, asking. “I believe I read it out loud to him and then Ken followed and said ‘Do you know what that means?’ We just started explaining to him.
Barksdale says it’s important that his son saw this message coming from a white man, “even though he doesn’t understand it now.” That day, he took a photo of Micah and Woodward talking.
“It was a joy to crouch down to his eye level and underscore this truth,” Woodward wrote when he shared the photo on his page. “My heart aches for Micah to know this reality deep in his bones. The world and the statistics will harangue him until he thinks otherwise. This generation, right now, needs to capitalize on the current movement and ensure that equality, security and opportunity are offered to young people like Micah. Anything less means you and I have failed.
Woodward raised two children. One is his step-grandson, whom he has raised as his son since he was a baby. Woodward says his son is Puerto Rican and black, but it wasn’t until after he graduated from high school that they started having meaningful conversations about race and identity. Woodward regrets that it took so long. He says he once thought of himself as “non-racist” and now tries to be actively “anti-racist”.
That’s not to say he never says the wrong things when it comes to race and identity. He does. This is part of difficult conversations. He stumbles. He apologizes. He listens. He thinks.
“It’s a way for me to get rid of the effects of white supremacy,” he says. “It’s getting rid of the poison.”
During his walks, people thanked him. They also ignored him, yelled at him and threatened him. Once he only had 50 feet to go when a man with a huge dog told him to get off his block or he would let his dog loose. Woodward, wisely, left.
He still has to go back and cover those 50 feet. He also has a few more neighborhoods to explore before he covers the whole city, which he hopes to accomplish next month. So far, he’s walked over 1,900 miles, burned over 344,500 calories and spoken with over 1,220 people.
Woodward says his wife and kids wouldn’t want him to do it again, but if he did, he’d be wearing a different sign. It would deal more directly with what he’s trying to do within himself and within society.
Carrying that other message too, he says, “would take more courage than me.”
This sign would read: “Reject the myth of white supremacy”.