He was overwhelmed when close to 75 of his neighbors showed up to walk with him in an amazing show of support and solidarity.
Shawn Dromgoole's family has lived in their Nashville neighborhood for over five decades. Although he has known those for streets for all his life, as a black man, Dromgoole has never felt truly safe walking down the road by himself. Less so now, during these pandemic times, when the sight of a masked African American man could prompt some racist white lady or man to call the cops on him for no reason other than the color of his skin. His fears have only worsened following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who lost his life at the hands of a white police officer who pinned him down with a knee on his neck.
"I couldn't make it off the front porch," Dromgoole told WZTV. "I couldn't make it past to walk even down the street, around the corner, because I literally told my mom, I don't think I'll make it back alive." Speaking to Nashville's News Channel 5, he revealed that growing up, he's always been aware of the racial prejudices he might face in life. "When I was a kid, there was one thing my mom told me to remember and it was that I was a black man," he said. "In my mind, all these things are bombarding my thoughts and my emotions and I think, I don’t want to be a number."
While protests broke out across the nation in response to the latest incident of police brutality, Dromgoole shared his fears with those in his neighborhood via a powerful post on the Next Door app. "My family has lived in this neighborhood on the corner of ninth and Knox for 54 years and I’m afraid to walk," he wrote in the 12 South Next Door group last week. "Yesterday I wanted to walk around my neighborhood but The fear of not returning home to my family alive kept me on my front porch. Today I wanted to walk again and I could not make it off the porch. Then I called my mother Lynetra and she said she would walk with. I still kept my ID on me and my phone in my hand but I walked. #Icantbreath #icantsleep #icantwalk."
Explaining why he decided to share the post, Dromgoole said, "People have died, people have moved on, and the neighbors didn't know each other. I was the stereotype. I was the, 'oh my gosh, this suspicious black man,' and so I just felt that I needed to share my heart."
Within minutes of him sharing his fears on the app, positive responses from those around him started flowing in. "My neighbor said we’ll walk with you. One after one," he revealed. Soon Dromgoole received messages from about 50 of his neighbors offering to walk with him. The following day, close to 75 people showed up to walk with him in an overwhelming show of solidarity and support.
"I was able to voice something that they didn't understand and they saw a real person," he said. "And then there were people on their front porches, clapping and cheering on their balconies, it was so mind-blowing." The group walked to Sevier Park while those who couldn't join them clapped and cheered for them from their balconies.
"I was scared to walk alone and now look who is behind me. Look who has my back. I didn’t do any of this to be seen. I didn’t do anything for any reason. I just wanted to take a walk in my neighborhood, but if it’s going to change the way people see people like me, then I want to do that," Dromgoole shared.
"And I think that was really an act of bravery for him to even share that with us and to let us know how he was feeling, and give us a chance to learn and to support him," said Kristin Keiper, one of the neighbors who joined the walk. Dromgoole believes it's important to share one's fears and pain in light of the racial tension engulfing the country right now.
"It doesn't take much to change your world, your collective environment," he said. "Just open your mouth and speak and share how you feel. Don't blame anybody, but be honest and transparent." He is currently planning another walk this Thursday after getting several requests from people in the neighborhood.