NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Nearly three dozen community members took the street on Monday night to walk a symbolic mile to support the Elizabeth Freeman Center and the victims of domestic violence it serves.
The annual fundraiser — Walk A Mile (in Her Shoes) — has been held for a decade in Pittsfield during one of the monthly Third Thursday events. Hundreds of people have participated in marching along North Street, with speakers, music and other activities.
The era of COVID-19 forced that to change, as it has so many social activities, and the center turned to virtual walks and a set of smaller groups around the county: nine walks in two weeks.
It was North Adams' turn on Monday night as residents gathered at Gallery 51, including Mayor Thomas Bernard, Police Chief Jason Wood, City Councilors Paul Hopkins and Benjamin Lamb, and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President James Birge.
"I miss the opportunity to be in Pittsfield where this traditionally has been held and have that that critical mass and that energy," said Bernard. "But at the same time, I think particularly right now, it is it is so important that we be able to have, you know, a North Adams version of Walk a Mile and to bring the community together."
The mayor said it was important, particularly with the stresses on the community because of the novel coronavirus, to raise awareness of the issue of domestic and sexual violence occuring in Berkshire County.
Freeman Center Executive Director Janis Broderick said it has been a tough year because the restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have "resulted in increased violence and decreased safety."
"We are seeing cases come in that are more extreme. And the levels of violence more severe than I think we've ever seen before in in such a short amount of time," she said.
The number of people who have been coming out for these abbreviated walks "shows that Berkshire County is irrepressible," Broderick said. "I think that really shows how much our community cares, how much they understand the issues of domestic and sexual violence, how much they know what happens here, and that we have to together stop it and our movement has been growing."
Bernard said the incidents of violence are underreported even as the severity is increasing. The Freeman Center is a critical component in addressing the issue, he said, and this gave the community the rare opportunity (this year at least) to come together.
"It's unfortunate that they've had to do the work for as long as they have," the mayor said. "But it's also important for us to know that that they're here in the community. So you know the line, we're here we walk, they're here they work."
The group walked up Main Street and down Eagle Street, clad in masks and a scattering of high heels, before turning around. They stopped at "photobooths" — five businesses — and took pictures to use with the hashtag #WereHereWeWalk for their virtual walk.
The event has so far raised $66,000 of its $75,000 goal.
"It's been getting more powerful every year and it's getting more powerful this year," Broderick said. "And that is our hope. Our hope is coming together as a community. We will stop domestic and sexual violence in Berkshire."
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