2016 Walk for Awareness remarks
Good Evening Mountaineers.
The Walk for Awareness has been an annual event for 27 years. Its beginning in 1990 came out of the abduction and assault of two women whose lives will forever be remembered with this annual walk.
Jeni Grey, an Appalachian News Bureau employee, disappeared. No one could find her. Later on after her disappearance Leigh Cooper Wallace, a member of my track and cross country teams, was out on a distance run in Boone. She was abducted at gun point and assaulted in some woods just outside of town. At that location, Leigh saw Jeni’s body and we can only imagine her horror. She told us the story of how she collected her resolve and became determined to survive and did all she could to stay calm and find her moment. Luckily, she was being taken to another site when the opportunity to escape presented itself when the abductor stopped for gas.
She was successful in escaping and because of the information she was able to give to the police, Jeni’s body was recovered. Jeni’s murderer, Leigh’s abductor, was arrested and convicted. Leigh showed her strength in so many ways through her ordeal, but the most important was her compelling need to share with us all that “we are stronger than we think.” She went on national TV and told her story which has inspired so many to have faith in themselves in what they can do in moments like that and for those victims of abuse and violence that you can recover and have an even more productive life.
After her ordeal, Leigh continued with the track and cross country teams, performing at a very high level in our conference and nationally. She was an outstanding athlete but more profoundly she became a strong minded advocate for all of us to come together to have a violent-free community. She was a successful educator and coach at Watauga High School until she became ill and died of pneumonia a couple of years ago. She will be forever with us.
The Walk for Awareness is something she was very much a part of and believed would promote awareness to all kinds of violence – from bullying to hate crimes to homicide. We are strongest when we attack problems together was her mandate.
The Walk for Awareness calls all of us to pledge to get involved in the Appalachian State community as students, educators, administrators, employees and law enforcement in securing the safety and well-being of the entire Appalachian State and Boone community.
It is not enough just to: See something, say something... we must do something.
You cannot say, I don’t want to get involved...you are involved. You should be a willing partner in the safety and well-being of all around you, just like they should be your partner in securing your safety and well-being.
It is not good enough for us to say “somebody else” will take care of it. The truth is, for everybody else, you are the somebody else. Therefore, no one gets involved. Violence runs free and we all suffer.
When circumstances around you warrant action, you have two powerful weapons in this partnership. One, if you involve yourself in a situation that is threatening a member of your community in any way, you should have the confidence in knowing you will have partners behind you – because we all stand together. There is always strength in numbers.
Second, almost all of us have a cell phone which only takes three numbers, 911, to contact law enforcement. There is never a reason not to be involved.
It is not a question of being brave, it is whether you want to have a safe, secure environment to learn and grow. So, you do the things that need to be done. If we commit to the partnership of watching out for each other, we can eliminate the “other guy will do it” attitude and make each of us “the other guy.” Once again, strength in numbers.
Tonight you will hear from organizations and individuals that will give you resources, ideas and methods to use in making your pledge to safety and well-being more meaningfully and effective.
If you want to be a part of the solution and make a stand to eliminate hate and violence from Appalachian State, I ask you now to repeat after me if you will:
I pledge to be a partner with the students, educators, administrators, employees and law enforcement at Appalachian State University in securing an environment of safety, well-being and non-violence for all of us.
Mountaineers, take ownership in your safety and well-being. Look around you, these are your partners in that ownership.
We are... Mountaineers!
We are... Mountaineers!
We will always be... Mountaineers!