Though Keenan Love admits he was “a little fatigued” after walking from Chicago to Kankakee, he couldn’t help but jump and spin through the finish line before laying down on the concrete surrounded by supporters offering water, food, hugs and kind words.
“From now on, this is our norm; this love that we show each other, this unity, this has got to be our norm,” Love addressed the crowd through a megaphone. “We can’t be out here letting other people mess up our unity so we’re divided. That’s not what this is about.”
Love, 29, a Chicago resident originally from Kankakee, set out to walk 46 miles — 1 mile for every year of George Floyd’s life.
Floyd, 46, was an unarmed black man whose May 25 death after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes during an arrest was a catalyst for rallies, protests and riots across the nation.
“Anytime a black man is slain for no reason, it don’t sit well with me, and this is my way to fight back,” Love said. “It was my way to fight back without causing a ruckus, without causing destruction, without being negative in any way. It was just my way to speak my piece.”
Love set out at 8 a.m. Sunday from South Cicero Avenue and West 83rd Street in Chicago and walked until resting for the evening at 7 p.m.
He started out again at 6:30 a.m. Monday, making his way past Peotone, Manteno, Bourbonnais, Bradley and finally, at around 8 p.m., arriving just outside Poor Boy Restaurant on East Court Street in Kankakee.
Before completing his trek, Love broke down outside Target in Bourbonnais at around 6:45 p.m.
“My body was just like no, take a break,” Love recalled.
He attempted several times to continue walking when a crowd that had gathered to greet him applauded and lifted him onto the hood of an escorting car.
Love rode on the hood for about a mile to allow himself to rest before finishing the walk. By the time he reached the end, more than 200 total had joined to walk or cheer in solidarity.
Love’s mother Kim Love said she was not surprised her son came up with the idea for the walk, as he has always been a “deep thinker.”
However, she was concerned for her son’s safety, especially as he walked alone for more than 30 miles to Peotone.
“I didn’t want him to walk through Chicago with so much [rioting] going on,” she said. “He was determined, and I just said well, hey, you have to fulfill your destiny.”
Kim Love said she knows her son feels concerned for the future well being of his own sons and daughter — he has five boys and a girl, ages 10 and under.
“We just want peace, justice and fairness, equality,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish [violence] on nobody. Evil is evil; it doesn’t matter what color.”
Love said his next goals will be to establish a non-profit and to make the walk an annual event.
“It might sound weird, but it was like an idea dropped into my head and I just had to act on it,” he said. “The cause really means a lot to me.”
Love said walking alone on highways was scary at times, but he had faith that he would make it through. Despite his nerves, the walk was peaceful and gave him time to reflect on life, he added.
Once he reached Peotone, a few friends joined him, and various local police departments escorted them the rest of the way and offered water and Gatorade.
“[The police’s help] was kind of shocking, but I’m open for change,” Love said. “We need it. Life’s not gonna work without it.”
Several nurses also came out to assess Love’s health at checkpoints during his walk, and supporters donated snacks, beverages and even a new pair of sneakers along the way.
Travis Miller, of Kankakee, who was a lead organizer of peaceful marches through Kankakee County on Saturday and Sunday, joined Love for part of his walk Monday.
Miller said the walk was Love’s way of bringing police brutality to light.
“Everyone has their own method,” Miller said. “He is somebody that loves to exercise, loves to run, loves to walk, so that was his way based on what he knows how, to show his respect and honor [Floyd].”
Miller said he hopes people who participated in or witnessed demonstrations over the past few days will take time to learn about police brutality toward the black community and the need for better law enforcement training.
“We need to hold our law enforcement accountable for their behavior,” he said.
Alexcia Harris, Love’s wife, said she was at a loss for words trying to describe how proud she was of her husband’s actions.
“I was nervous to begin with because of the climate of the country,” she said. “I didn’t know how people would react to it, especially walking through small towns and him being a black man in those small towns, but I’m so proud of him for doing it.”
The walk was a great example of a peaceful demonstration for all involved, she added.
“It’s kind of sad that we’re having to do this in 2020,” Harris said. “We just want justice to be served. We [African Americans] want to be able to live freely just like everyone else.”