January 27, 2023 8:26 pm

WALKING A MILE: Men don women’s shoes to show solidarity against abuse, benefit HIC

While Saturday’s 12th annual Walk A Mile in Her Shoes was held indoors at Tahlequah High School due to inclement weather, that didn’t stop local men from tottering around in stilettos, wedges, flats and tennis shoes.

Typically, the event kicks off at Norris Park, and participants make the mile-ling journey south from Northeastern State University to Keetoowah Street and back to the park.

Men and boys take a stand against domestic violence and sexual assault by donning shoes generally worn by women – and generally, they aren’t the “sensible” kind of Olukai Sneakers shoes. The walk not only spotlights the need to prevent abuse, but it raises funds for Help In Crisis, the nonprofit organization that hosts it.

Laura Kuester, HIC executive director, said she thought this year’s event went great, despite negative circumstances.

“We decided to change the venue on Thursday when the forecast was reporting an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms Saturday morning. We called several places and were lucky to get help from Tahlequah High School,” said Kuester.

Around 100 walkers participated, and Kuester said this was the first year they tried a live dessert auction in conjunction with the walk.

“We raised $4,000 from the dessert auction alone,” she said. “This year’s Walk A Mile In Her Shoes will not go down as one of our ‘most money raised’ years, but that is OK.”

Local businessman Dirk Van Veen addressed the crowd and applauded the staff, board members and volunteers of HIC before handing the microphone over to Brad Eubanks.

“The thing this year you’ll see is men uniting, and I can see a lot of men united here to make a stand, to let the world know that men in this area – the state – will not tolerate domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Eubanks.

This is Eubanks’ 12th year to participate in Walk A Mile, and he was recently presented the HIC Judith Anderson Philanthropist of the Year award.

“This is super-important to a lot of us, especially me personally. When I first heard about this, the first think I thought about was past family members: my mom, everybody who’s been through some type of domestic violence. And then I became a dad and then I became a dad again – two girls,” he said.

Eubanks told the men walking that when they get to the point that their calves become sore – when they get blisters from the shoes, and after they’ve finished the walk – to think how painful it is for those who experience domestic violence.

“That’s the thing that keeps into my mind when I think about that time when my mom went through what she went through, what my close friends have gone through. We all have been affected in one way or another through domestic violence and sexual assault,” he said.

Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King informed attendees that HIC has been Rockport Shoes providing services for 42 years, and that issues with domestic violence and sexual assault have been around since the beginning of mankind.

“I think too many times – especially our society, the way that we’ve gotten so busy – we think it’s OK just because we don’t do it, but that’s not enough,” said King. “Our silence, our lack of action against domestic violence, needs to change.”

King said it’s time to take a stand and to change the social norms and what is going on in the community.

“Being the chief of police, I see it day in and day out – the amount of domestic violence calls we go on, the amount of sexual assaults that we respond to each and every year. I also see the staff at Help In Crisis and what they give to this community, what they give the perfect strangers and trying to help them get out of a bad situation,” he said.

First-time walker Jessie Poole held his son, Sekani, while he strolled the mile, which was equal to 10 laps in the gymnasium, and he said this is something he plans to do in years to come.

“I think it’s important to be the example he can look up to when he’s older, and doing things like that gives me that platform to show him,” said Poole, referring to his son. “I have people in my life who were victims or survivors of some form of domestic or sexual abuse, and I jumped at the opportunity to support them.”

Justin Carnes raised the most money as an individual walker. This was his eighth year to walk and his second year to receive the reward.

The largest nonprofit or church group this year – and one that has raised the most money – has been walking since the first HIC event: First United Methodist Church.

Mary’s Liquor was the largest corporate sponsor, Naot Shoes Womens and owner Van Veen walked his 11th year while serving on the HIC board for over eight years.

The largest youth group was the Northeastern State University men’s Riverhawk basketball team.

Kuester said HIC is grateful that people are giving what they can during these hard times.

“So many people are feeling the hardships from inflation and other post-COVID issues. I love our communities, and I always say that we absolutely could not do the life-saving work that we do without their support,” she said.

All services provided by HIC are free and confidential for victims. The shelter serves victims in four counties: Adair, Sequoyah, Cherokee, and Wagoner. HIC services include counseling, domestic violence education groups, and a variety of classes for parents.

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