The 17th annual Freedom Walk will be held Wednesday, Sept. 11 to honor the thousands of lives lost during the 2001 World Trade Center attack. City Commissioner Pam Smith-Wright has been holding the Freedom Walk in Owensboro each year since 2002.
Smith-Wright said she came up with the idea to hold the first Freedom Walk during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, which left 2,997 dead as a direct result, while thousands of others have fallen severely ill due to cancerous materials breathed in during the rescue and cleanup process.
“I came up with the idea for my ladies auxiliary,” Smith-Wright said. “In 2001, the towers were hit, and the next year, we started the walk to honor the individuals and first responders who’d lost their lives trying to save people.”
Smith-Wright was the first African-American in the state of Kentucky to hold the office of State President for the AmVets Ladies Auxiliary, and that group of women has played a large role in the annual freedom walk held in Owensboro each year.
Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend this year’s freedom walk, Smith-Wright said. In the past, those who participated walked from the Owensboro Sportscenter to Shelton Memorial in downtown Owensboro. Smith-Wright said they’ll be changing things up a bit this year.
“We’ve got people who’ve walked all 17 years, and they still want to, but they can’t because they’re elderly, so we’re starting the walk at Owensboro Fire Department Station Number 1 this year, which will make the walk quite a bit shorter,” she said. “I don’t want to exclude anyone, especially not those who’ve been walking the whole time.”
Smith-Wright said many young people participate in the walk as well, including ROTC members from all of the area high schools. Apollo High School will have at least 42 ROTC members participating in Wednesday’s walk. Smith-Wright said she advocates for ROTC to walk each year so that other young people “know what service means.”
The AmVets Ladies Auxiliary Post 119 will be serving bagged lunches to all high schoolers who participate in the walk, as it may conflict with their lunchtimes at school.
In years past, Smith-Wright and her team have chosen an Owensboro resident to give a short, inspirational speech before the walk. This year’s speaker will be Owensboro Police Department Chief Art Ealum, Smith-Wright said.
A longtime advocate for veterans, Smith-Wright said she does not take lightly the sacrifices made by first responders and law enforcement. Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain will be presented with an award by the AmVets Ladies Auxiliary Post 119 for his service to the local community.
“Veterans are my heart, but I think police officers and first responders — they are just like vets because they put their lives on the line for someone else, every day,” Smith-Wright said.
The 17th annual Freedom Walk will begin at OFD Fire Station 1, located at 512 West Ninth Street. Those wishing to participate should arrive at the fire station at 10:30 a.m., with the walk starting at 11 a.m.