More than 100 march for safety and partnership

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

As darkness fell over the West End neighborhood Saturday evening, its residents came together at Birdsong Recreation Center, one of the city’s most well-known meeting places. Then they set out to see the community’s sights together.

They took out flashlights to help each other see where they were going. They waved to nearby walkers and bike-riders, some of whom joined in the walk along the way. They shared bags of popcorn, snow cones and soda. Some people saw old friends they hadn’t talked to for a while, while others, recent additions to the neighborhood, met some of their new compatriots.

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It was all part of the local Civic League’s first (and hopefully annual) Flashlight Walk, held to raise awareness of Aug. 3’s National Night Out (NNO), during which the League will hold a 1950s &uot;Sock-Hop,&uot; on the lawn near Pender and Wellons Street, near the police department. There’ll be hula-hoop and bubblegum blowing contests, shag dancing and limbo.

But beyond all that, said league president Ernest Hefferon, the Walk made a statement about the community’s union for safety and partnership. &uot;We wanted to take to the streets to let Suffolk now that there’s good people that care about issues like crime and vagrancy,&uot; he said. &uot;We wanted to work with other leagues, because there’s power in numbers.&uot;

Thelma Smith and her friend Virginia Bowers came over from the East Suffolk Gardens (just off Washington Street) League to walk. &uot;This is just a community-type thing,&uot; she said. &uot;We like to know that’s going on in other leagues.&uot;

Bowers sipped a snowcone with West Ender Herb Hawley and his collie, the aptly-named Puppy.

&uot;I brought this because I have to see where I’m going,&uot; said Hawley, who’d forsaken a flashlight in favor of a large lantern. &uot;I have pins in both legs, so I can’t stand for long. I did this because I’m concerned about the affairs of out community.&uot;

Like Hawley, Nicolas Kersch lives on the West End outskirts on Brewer Street. Unlike Hawley, Kersch is new to the area. &uot;I just wanted to come out here and meet my neighbors,&uot; said Kersch, who moved to the West End in October. &uot;I’ve been pretty busy, and I wanted to get out and see some new people.&uot;

As Birdsong became the place that ushered in a new Suffolk tradition, the neighborhood will soon bid it a sad goodbye, as the center will be torn down in the fall.

&uot;This is our starting and ending point, and it’s significant because it’s a special community place,&uot; Hefferon said. &uot;We have gathered community citizens old and new, and we’re looking forward to what’s coming in the future.&uot;

With NNO coordinator (and police officer) D.A. Benavidez escorting them on the way, the 100-plus walkers picked up their flashlights and started strolling. They waved to a packed Baron’s restaurant, then walked past the old Nansemond Drug building, itself soon to be renovated into a seafood restaurant. They made their way past the Morgan Memorial Library, then took a short break at the intersection of Smith and Wellons. Heading back up Market Street, they passed City Hall and the rescue squad, then hurried across the street. Finally, they stepped back into the grassy area outside Birdsong for a new and much-needed round of soda, snowcones and bottled water.

&uot;I don’t know if I could have (made that walk) alone,&uot; said Kelli Garcia, also new to the area. &uot;Having the crowd there made it a lot easier. I was very impressed with the renovations I saw. It’s what’s going to make for a better downtown Suffolk.&uot;