When Linda Harris retired last year — handing off the reins of her small property management company to her son — she saw herself embarking on “Act Two of my life.” She’d leave real estate behind to become a jazz singer, and had already booked two thrilling new music projects — one in Japan, the other in Uganda — for 2020 to help launch her new career.
And then the pandemic hit, leaving the Maryland resident “home twiddling my thumbs” as both of her trips were canceled. “I felt I had no purpose,” she tells Yahoo Life of seeing her music dreams dashed, which, coupled with the “social unrest that was all over my TV screen,” left her feeling restless and yearning for change.
“I felt that my freedoms were being taken away and I didn't like that,” Harris says. “So I started walking and my walks turned from 1 to 2 miles [a day] to 3 miles to 5 miles to 10 miles, 15 miles. And I just decided that I needed to do more.”
That’s when a book about Harriet Tubman, which Harris’s father gave her when she was just 6, caught her eye.
“The book one night was going at me,” Harris says. “It was calling me. I picked up the book, I looked through it and I said, ‘You know what? I'm not far from Cambridge [Maryland, near where Tubman was born to enslaved parents, who named her Araminta Ross, in 1822]’ ... And I decided to drive to Cambridge. And that is where it began.”
After visiting Cambridge, home of the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center, and meeting with local historians to learn more about the life of the abolitionist famed for leading dozens of enslaved people to freedom through the Underground Railroad, the retiree felt compelled to follow in the woman’s footsteps.
“I had no intentions of walking the Tubman trail,” she says. “It's just something divine, something glorious that happened. And I simply decided to follow the light and the spirit of Harriet Tubman.”
Before lacing up her boots, however, she needed some company. After ruling out a solo trek, Harris turned to Facebook as well as two sites for Black outdoor enthusiasts — GirlTrek and Outdoor Afro — to find walking buddies. The response was overwhelming, but she was ultimately able to winnow the group — now known as “We Walk With Harriet” and boasting more than 9,000 followers on Facebook — to six other women, a “sisterhood” ranging in age from 35 to 65.
After months of training for the physically grueling daily 20-mile walks, and kickstarting fundraising efforts to support Cambridge’s Harriet Tubman Museum as well as meals on the journey, in September the group and a support crew set off from Cambridge to follow the Underground Railroad byway all the way to Kennett Square, Pa. Along the way, they were met with care packages, home-cooked meals, prayers and messages of support, and lifts back to nearby hotels where they could rest for the night before starting all over again in the morning.
“I just thought that Harriet was with us,” Harris says of the encouragement the women received during their trek, “and that nothing bad was going to happen to us — and nothing did.”
Finishing in Pennsylvania was “very emotional and very spiritual,” she says.
“I broke down and cried because I was just so emotional and so elated,” Harris tells Yahoo Life of the “overwhelming” moment.
“We had so many people wishing us well and thoughts of Harriet, of what she went through,” she adds. “She had guns and dogs, slave catchers ... the fear of the unknown. And it was just overwhelming.
“We all started started crying. Because we thought, ‘We did this thing.’ And we're very proud of that.”
Since that accomplishment, “We Walk With Harriet” has exploded into what Harris calls a “mighty movement” — one she intends to keep building as its numbers grow. That will include more walks, as well as a property she hopes to turn into “Camp Harriet,”a facility for educational retreats.
Says Harris: “We are walking to freedom and [the] freedom of your mind to be creative, and to live the life that you were born to live. That's become our mantra.”
—Video produced by Kat Vasquez
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