This is a guest blog written by one of America Walks’ 2020 Community Change Grantees, Lucy Neher, City of Takoma Park Safe Routes to School Coordinator. With a professional and personal passion for safety, children, and walkable communities, Lucy created the Takoma Park Safe Routes to School program in 2007. It now empowers five local schools, supports a culture of walking and biking, and engages all in a community of health and inclusion. Lucy uses a multi-pronged approach: education that makes safety a fun, cool topic; infrastructural changes that ensure a safe environment; and community-building that engages volunteers and supports the long-term goals of creating a livable, walkable, bikable area.
The idea sprang from a chance encounter with a veritable parade of students behind the Takoma Park Community Center. The teacher’s explanation of what this stream of happy, chatty kids was all about was the kernel for what has become the culmination of a year of work — We Belong Here: The Takoma Park Equity Walk. “It’s Unity Day! We are walking for Unity Day,” she yelled above the students’ voices. Unity Day is about anti-bullying — these kids were outside in the late October sun, talking and smiling as they walked for a cause.
That became the goal: with a $1500 grant from America Walks, create a place for students and their teachers and parents to feel free to play and talk about things that matter to them. We would create a tool kit to accompany the walking route to guide teachers and parents through the many topics related to equity, but specifically race, gender and disability. The toolkit became an online interactive map that can be easily accessed via a QR code on a mobile phone.
The pandemic gave the project a new dimension. Our students needed a socially-distanced activity to help fill their days. The scope of the project would be modified to ensure completion by Fall of 2020. A second route was added in another Takoma Park neighborhood on Anne Street. Materials and methods were chosen to conform with current pandemic related protocols.
In late May, we witnessed the death of George Floyd and the national outcry that elevated the Black Lives Matter movement. There was an even greater responsibility to get it right and an urgency to get it done. We Belong Here: The Takoma Park Equity Walk provides an opportunity to talk, think, read and examine our own beliefs and actions in a safe place.
The theme of belonging emerged out of a conversation with Kori Johnson, the Community Engagement Manager for Safe Routes to School Partnership. The content of the project was reviewed by many, most notably the Montgomery County Public Schools Equity Initiatives Unit. Their examination and feedback provided the green light to proceed. They even said, “The Equity Walk is a fantastic idea and we are excited to actually go on the walk and do the activities with our loved ones.”
Now we have an outdoor activity that families can enjoy in a socially distanced way. They have a place to talk and a platform to jump into the learning and growing that follows. We have a tremendous reading and resource list pulled together by our very knowledgeable librarians from the Takoma Park Library. All this can be viewed on the We Belong Here page on the City website in order to plan your visit to the engaging, fun and educational activity we call We Belong Here: The Takoma Park Equity Walk.
Let’s get walking. Let’s get talking.
Want more? Check out this video of the Takoma Park Equity Walk project here: