Bedford County resident David Merritt has a calling to end the divisiveness in the United States. He is seeking advice from the people he says are often forgotten by the government and the media.
Merritt will continue a journey across the U.S. that he began in 2017, passing through small towns and talking with everyday Americans. As he learned on the first leg of his journey, there is common ground.
Merritt calls his journey “Walk of One Nation.” He started March 1, 2017, in Virginia Beach. The mission was to walk across the country and ask everyday Americans, “What should we do about the divisiveness?” Videos of those interviews and pictures from the first leg of his journey are at www.walkofonenation.us.
Over 66 days he traveled 1,640 miles before an injury, missing his family and a sister in poor health caused him to put a pause on the trek when he reached Oklahoma City.
“That was really difficult,” Merritt said when ask about the decision to stop the walk. “I was pretty emotionally drained by the time I got there, but I am used to that. Expeditions are hard. That’s what makes them expeditions.”
Expeditions are nothing new to Merritt, who has owned several businesses, including an Outdoor Wilderness Leadership School.
“I took people mountaineering, backpacking, rock climbing, skiing, so the idea of putting a backpack on my back and trekking somewhere was not a foreign idea,” Merritt said. “It felt natural.”
In 2017 he walked across Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas, before stopping in Oklahoma City. Along the way, he visited historically significant places such as the Appomattox Court House and the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford; the Lorraine Hotel, in Memphis, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968; Little Rock Central High School where the gang of nine integrated schools in 1957 and ended at the Oklahoma City bombing site.
Some of the secondary interstates he walked aligned with the Trail of Tears. “The significance of that is, I supposedly had a great, great, great grandfather, a Cherokee Indian, who was on the Trail of Tears and escaped in Bryant, Arkansas and married a German immigrant woman,” Merritt said.
Merritt said he was surprised how willing people were to talk. “I think it’s interesting that people thought this is a political thing,” he said. “It’s not. I just want to know what people think. Nobody is going out and asking the people in the middle of Arkansas what we can do about the divisiveness.”
Merritt said he was shocked by the generosity of the people he met. He was fed by total strangers and offered a bed to sleep in by people he had just met. And it all started with a simple question, “How do we end the divisiveness?”
“The number one response was we just need to listen to each other and talk to each other,” Merritt said. “Number two and three were kind of tied. They were, we need to pray and we need to bring God back into our country.”
Merritt is flying to Oklahoma City at the end of this month and will pick up where he left off on March 1. He will make his way to California ending in either Los Angeles or San Diego. He is still determining what historic places he will visit. The mission is not over when he reaches California. Merritt said he is planning another walk from Southern California to Seattle.
“At this point I hope that every two years I can do another section,” Merritt said. “If it becomes financially viable I would do it every March. I hope the result will be a documentary or book about what people are saying about the divisiveness in our country.”
Merritt said people should work to be “uniters” instead of “dividers” who talk in divisive language. “Talk as a uniter,” he said. “We all have the ability; we are choosing not to. I hope people say, ‘I’m not left or right, I’m an American.’”
The divisiveness seems worse than it was in 2017, Merritt said. His first journey inspired him, and he said he is hopeful the second leg will do the same.