Community members gather in Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday, August 16 in memorium of Heather Heyer, the woman killed during protests in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. Organizers of the memorial walk have decided to continue the event for the next two weeks. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Community members gather in Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday, August 16 in memorium of Heather Heyer, the woman killed during protests in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. Organizers of the memorial walk have decided to continue the event for the next two weeks. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

A walk in the park

When Michele Valesquez was growing up in South Carolina during the Civil Rights era, she saw hatred, racism and bigotry all around her.

“Those things are seared into my brain,” she said. “I thought we had overcome, we were getting better and now it seems we are going in reverse.”

Although Valesquez’s fears are rooted thousands of miles away, across decades and cultures, she decided that the issues facing the United States today are too similar to those of the past to ignore.

Last Wednesday, Valesquez and about 40 other community members walked at Soldotna Creek Park in memory of Heather Hyer, the woman killed in Charlottesville, Virginia when a car smashed into anti-racism protesters. Last night and next Wednesday, the group continues to march at the park in hopes of spreading their message of love and respect.

“Every time we get together, we’re a different group of people,” said Susie Smalley, who organized the weekly walks through social media and word of mouth. “We add and we subtract and people come and go. We want more respect and more conversations.”

Although the weekly walks were inspired by rallies and protests across the country, organizers and participants stress that the event is “just a walk in the park.”

“The biggest thing is that we don’t want this to be an anti anything,” Smalley said. “It’s not related to politics, it’s just wake up that we don’t ever want to be a place where people think that kind of behavior is OK.”

Smalley hopes to bring a positive message to the community and to reaffirm how “awesome” the Kenai Peninsula community is, she said.

“We wanted to do something locally,” Valesquez said. “On Wednesdays you have the market and the music, it’s a good time and perfect for a walk in the park against racism and bigotry. … You’ve got a cross section of people walking, a lot of people of faith from different churches, a lot of different people who do not approve of what’s happening.”

During the first walk, participants held signs that stating that “Racism is not patriotic,” and quoted civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Participants also have an opportunity to bring a reminder of the walks’ message home with them.

“Susie had mentioned on Facebook that she was painting rocks with messages of love and we just gave them out to people,” Valesquez said. “It’s a little extra thing that people could take as a token to remind them that they were in ‘a walk in the park,’ to remind them why they were there.”

The walks correspond with Soldotna’s Music in the Park series, which start at 6 p.m., and all are welcome to join at the last walk on August 30.

“We want to make the community better, to create places and situations where people can talk about things that are important in helpful ways,” Smalley said.

Kat Sorensen can be reached at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

Community members gather in Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday, August 16 in memorium of Heather Heyer, the woman killed during protests in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. Organizers of the memorial walk have decided to continue the event for the next two weeks. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Community members gather in Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday, August 16 in memorium of Heather Heyer, the woman killed during protests in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. Organizers of the memorial walk have decided to continue the event for the next two weeks. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Community members gather in Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday, August 16 in memorium of Heather Heyer, the woman killed during protests in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. Organizers of the memorial walk have decided to continue the event for the next two weeks. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Community members gather in Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday, August 16 in memorium of Heather Heyer, the woman killed during protests in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. Organizers of the memorial walk have decided to continue the event for the next two weeks. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Community members gather in Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday, August 16 in memorium of Heather Heyer, the woman killed during protests in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. Organizers of the memorial walk have decided to continue the event for the next two weeks. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Community members gather in Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday, August 16 in memorium of Heather Heyer, the woman killed during protests in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. Organizers of the memorial walk have decided to continue the event for the next two weeks. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

More in Life

This photo of Frenchy with a freshly killed black bear was taken on the Kenai Peninsula in the early 1900s. (Photo courtesy of the Viani Family Collection)
Unraveling the story of Frenchy, Part 1

The stories were full of high adventure — whaling, mining, polar bear hunting, extensive travel, and the accumulation of wealth

File
Seeing God’s hand in this grand and glorious creation

The same God of creation is the God that made me and you with the same thoughtfulness of design, purpose and intention

Chewy and sweet the macaroons are done in 30 minutes flat. (Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Sophisticated, simplified

When macarons are too complicated, make these delicious, simple macaroons

Michael S. Lockett / capital city weekly
Gigi Monroe welcomes guests to Glitz at Centennial Hall, a major annual drag event celebrated every Pride Month, on June 18.
Packed houses, back to back: GLITZ a roaring success

Sold-out sets and heavy-hitting headliners

Michael Armstrong / Homer News 
Music lovers dance to Nervis Rex at the KBBI Concert on the Lawn on July 28, 2012, at Karen Hornaday Park in Homer.
Concert on the Lawn returns

COTL line up includes The English Bay Band, a group that played in 1980

Marcia and Mary Alice Grainge pose in 1980 with a pair of caribou antlers they found in 1972. The sisters dug the antlers from deep snow and detached them from a dead caribou. (Photo provided by Marcia Grainge King)
Fortune and misfortune on the Kenai — Part 2

In Kasilof, and on Kachemak Bay, in Seldovia and later in Unga, Petersen worked various jobs before being appointed deputy marshal in 1934

“Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement” was published in 2018 by Razorbill and Dutton, imprints of Penguin Random House LLC. (Image via amazon.com)
Off the Shelf: The power of personal voice

“A Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement” provides first-person accounts of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida

Most Read