March 21, 2021 (Orlando) – The Parramore community should be proud. In fact, all of Central Florida should be proud. Why? Because one of the community’s sons on last week achieved a goal that most people living now could only imagine: Elv Smith Charles, a.k.a. “Smith,” walked from Selma, Alabama over the Edmund Pettus Bridge to Montgomery, retracing the steps of civil rights leaders and activists who were protesting for equal voting rights in 1965.
Smith’s journey totaled 54 miles which took 28.5 hours. That’s right. What took civil rights marchers five days, took him and his mentor Brad Mason a day and several hours.
In an interview several days later, when asked if he had recuperated from the trek he said jokingly, “Yes, I’m good. My legs are still working.”
That’s the kind of enthusiasm and positivity you will get from the 18-year-old if you ever talk with him. In the Facebook Live video he took after arriving on the grounds of the Alabama state capital in Montgomery he said: “You see stuff like this in books [the scenery, historic statues]. Just being here alone feels amazing.”
In the recent interview, he said that his goal was to experience what Dr. Martin Luther King and others did, to gain equal rights to vote. Smith, a student at Jones High School, seemed to understand the significance of the walk, when people went to jail, were beaten and even died to exercise their right to vote. Even now he said, “People are dying for the wrong reasons.”
The idea for the walk stemmed from a program at the New Image Youth Center (NIYC) – in Orlando’s Parramore community – geared toward middle and high school students called The Give Team. The team is the only inner city obstacle course racing team in the country with a focus on leadership skills, persistence, hard work and community engagement.
Mason, head coach of the team and NIYC board member for more than 10 years, said when the group did a 15-mile heavy weight walk last November, they stopped by July Perry’s gravesite in the Greenwood Cemetery: The coach said he wanted to stop at Perry’s grave to talk to the students about the Ocoee Massacre. The massacre took place 100 years prior to that date, in 1920. Mr. Perry was beaten, jailed, shot and lynched by a White mob that wanted to send a signal to Black residents not to vote. Homes and businesses were burned down, many residents were killed, many fled and some were never accounted for, according to survivors’ accounts.
Shortly after the walk in November, a NIYC sponsor (GoRuck) created a challenge in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civic rights activists. The company pledged a portion of the proceeds from the challenge to NIYC, if a club member walked 54 miles in the month of March 2021.
When Smith found out about the challenge, he didn’t hesitate and responded to his coach, “Let’s do that – the actual route from Selma to Montgomery,” knowing that historic walk was 54 miles. Smith said he cleared whatever he had going on to do the walk.
They drove to Selma from Orlando on Thursday, March 11 and started their journey at noon on Friday, March 12. Along the way, Smith noticed critters, pitch darkness and friendly drivers who blew their horns in support. They had planned to go to all four campsites (rest areas) that the original marchers stopped at but were only able to stop at one.
And the rest is history, as the saying goes but the coach said what made the walk even more special was the support they got.
“Smith had conversations with people along with way who participated in the 1965 marches,” said Mason.
Also, a woman who had supported The Give Team over the past couple of years, found out about Smith’s idea and offered to trail them in her car, providing water refills, pickle juice, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a spare headlamp, etc. Again, it was a 28.5-hourlong walk. The woman, Heather Smith, said later, it was easily one of the most special moments of her life. Talk about team work!
“We wouldn’t have made it without her – that’s for sure,” Coach Mason said, adding that she even gave them a ride back to Selma.
This indeed was the biggest accomplishments for Smith, who started attending NIYC at age five.
“The walk was a challenge because we weren’t in the body shape to do it but I love a challenge. There’s no stopping me. I like to do different things. I like history. To be the change in the world. Maybe inspire the world.”
Perhaps this confidence comes from his upbringing and training at NIYC. He’s the youngest in his family, which hails from Haiti. He was born here. “My brother and sister gave me great advice. [They] basically taught me how to take care of myself. I learned how to cook at age five. I can go with the flow.”
This experience has obviously had an impact on Smith. He has plans to go to college and pursue a career having to do with art or math or both. Designing clothes, using the finest materials, like silk and leather, is something he is interested in. He said everything behind the art that he does will reflect the Black experience.
If you would like to know more about Smith, The Give Team or the New Image Youth Center (Director: Dr. Shanta Barton-Stubbs) or if you would like to make a donation to their efforts, please contact them at http://www.newimageyouth.org The program and center are both on Facebook and Instagram.
-Trish Martin, firstname.lastname@example.org