A mile (or 54) in their shoes: Walk to honor John Lewis, C.T. Vivian

Mark Spatt (left) and DeMark Liggins started an initiative called My54.org, which encourages people to walk, ride or run the distance between Selma and Montgomery for a cause that’s important to them. (Contributed photo)
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Mark Spatt (left) and DeMark Liggins started an initiative called My54.org, which encourages people to walk, ride or run the distance between Selma and Montgomery for a cause that’s important to them. (Contributed photo)

Mark Spatt and DeMark Liggins believe one way to honor the legacy of civil rights icons U.S. Rep. John Lewis and the Rev. C.T. Vivian is to symbolically walk in their shoes for 30 days.

The two friends started an initiative called My54.org, which encourages people to walk, ride or run the distance between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, — roughly 54 miles — for a cause that’s important to them, whether it’s social justice, the environment, housing or voting rights.

“It’s a personal walk,” said Spatt, a partner and portfolio manager at an Atlanta investment firm and co-chairman of ACCESS Atlanta, an American Jewish Committee leadership program for young professionals. “It would be great if everyone could walk from Selma to Montgomery. ... In our dreams that would be an amazing thing to do, but with the pandemic and the inability for people to take five days off, we decided this would be more powerful and involve more people.”

This way, say organizers, the goals are individualized, yet “create a tangible connection to the brave men and women who walked over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and kept walking farther into a dangerous situation.”

The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma is the site of the March 7, 1965, voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday” after marchers were brutally beaten by state troopers.

“They were not the same person, but they were driven by the same thing,” said Liggins, who works at a civil rights organization that he declines to name in order to put the emphasis on the two civil rights leaders and people’s stories. “At the end of the day, you want to make things right that you see are wrong.”

Liggins and Spatt met through the Atlanta Black-Jewish Coalition, which seeks to deepen the relationship between the two communities and lobby for common goals.

The commitment includes moving 54 miles, whether outside or at home and engage in thought, civic action or historical understanding to better the community, according to the My54.org website.

So far, Spatt said, nearly 500 people around the world have signed up for the project, which launched on July 30, Vivian’s birthday and the day of Lewis’ funeral in Atlanta, and officially ends Aug. 28, the anniversary of the March on Washington. However, organizers say it’s not to late to join the initiative and people can do it in a shorter amount of time or tailor it to their own needs.

The good thing is you don’t have to leave your community — or home — to participate. Participants can use gym equipment or run or walk on trails outside.

Then, they are asked to share their journey and goals on social media.

“We want people to understand what it means to ‘pray with your feet,‘ ” Spatt said.

In the end, they want people to think about about what issue they care about enough that they, like Lewis, Vivian and other marchers, would be willing to walk 54 miles that involved hostile conditions.

Lewis and Vivian, who died on the same day, “left us a legacy of change,” said Liggins. “Don’t be afraid to try to make a change as long as it is ’good trouble’ and ‘do good for the sake of good'.”