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

The Christ Lutheran Church is seen on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Musicians bring ‘golden age of guitar’ to Performing Arts Society

Armin Abdihodžic and Thomas Tallant to play concert Saturday

Storm Reid plays June Allen in “Missing,” a screenlife film that takes place entirely on the screens of multiple devices, including a laptop and an iPhone. (Photo courtesy Sony Pictures)
On The Screen: ‘Missing’ is twisty, modern, great

I knew “Missing” was something special early on

Puff pastry desserts are sprinkled with sugar. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Puff pastry made simple

I often shop at thrift stores. Mostly for cost, but also out… Continue reading

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Would I do it again?

I ran across some 20-some year-old journal notes rambling on about a 268-foot dive I took

A copy of Prince Harry’s “Spare” sits on a desk in the Peninsula Clarion office on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Prince Harry gets candid about ‘gilded cage’ in new memoir

“Spare” undoubtedly succeeds in humanizing Harry

The cast of “Tarzan” rides the Triumvirate Theatre float during the Independence Day parade in downtown Kenai, Alaska on Monday, July 4, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Triumvirate swings into the year with ‘Tarzan’, Dr. Seuss and fishy parody

The next local showing of the Triumvirate Theatre is fast approaching with a Feb. 10 premiere of “Seussical”

This vegan kimchi mandu uses crumbled extra-firm tofu as the protein. (Photo by Tressa Dale / Peninsula Clarion)
Meditating on the new year with kimchi mandu

Artfully folding dumplings evokes the peace and thoughtful calm of the Year of the Rabbit

A promotional poster for the first event in the Winter Film Series. (Photo courtesy Kenai Peninsula Film Group)
Movie buffs to debut local film series

This first entry is centered on short films

Mashed potatoes are served with chicken breast, green beans and pan sauce. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Mashed potatoes for a chef

They are deceptively hard to get right

Photo 210.029.162, from the Clark Collection, courtesy of Hope and Sunrise Historical and Mining Museum 
Emma Clark feeds the Clark “pet” moose named Spook in 1981. At the urging of state wildlife officials, Carl Clark had agreed to care for this calf at their home in Hope.
Emma Clark: Becoming a Hope pioneer

For 50 years, Emma and Carl had been central to the story of Hope