This long walk

by Brian Clarey

On May 2, George Ewing left his Scranton, Pa. hotel room, started walking and just kept going. The plan was to walk 600 miles in 30 days, about 20 a day, all the way back to the Gate City, where this trip really started.

Ewing, director of development for Win Win Resolutions in Greensboro, has dubbed his journey the “No More Bullies Walk,” intended to raise funds and awareness of the consequences bullying can have on children. He started in Scranton because that’s where Brandon Bitner killed himself by throwing himself in front of a speeding truck.

Bitner, a high school freshman, was sick of being bullied, being called “faggot” and “sissy,” sick of the humiliation, the beatings, the constant torment. That’s what he said in his suicide note, anyway.

Ewing calls it “bullycide.” “When I was working in Scranton,” he says, “five kids committed suicide in six months. I figured we’d start there, hop through Harrisburg and talk to the governor — they don’t have legislation as comprehensive as we do in North Carolina.”

Last Wednesday he paused outside Richmond, Va., roughly the halfway point: 300 miles and 15 days in.

“[I’ve walked] about 17 miles today,” he says, “got a couple more to go, probably — we’re starting to get some rain clouds. We’re just about on schedule; we were a couple days ahead because we didn’t end up spending as much time in [Washington] DC as we thought.”

In DC, he says, he met with Sen. Robert Casey, the Pennsylvania lawmaker who has been pushing the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require schools to keep records on bullying, particularly bullying based on sexual orientation, and to ban that type of harassment from any schools that receive federal funding.

“[DC] was kind of disappointing,” Ewing says. “The legislation has had all of the programming for anti-bullying and conflict resolution, they pulled all of the programming dollars out of it to get a bipartisan co-sponsor. Now it’s just another piece of legislation with no teeth. And still, they only have 23 senators on board and they need 60.

“The answer to kids taking their own lives because of bullying is gonna come from outside of Washington, not inside the Beltway,” he says. “The White House threw everybody they could find at us — they sent six people over to talk with us: a representative from the First Lady’s office, a rep from the Department of Education, a couple of policy folks,” he continues. “What we came out of that meeting with, we found out the administration doesn’t have a definition of the word ‘bullying’ yet, and they won’t until September.”

But Ewing has no trouble defining the word — he knows firsthand what it’s like to be pushed around, to be persecuted for being different.

“I was the fat kid in school,” he says. “I was bullied in middle school, like most kids — one out of four are bullied. When I got into high school it got violent. I wasn’t violent enough to fight back; I wasn’t courageous enough to stand up for myself. I took the coward’s way out: I skipped school, and then ultimately I found an excuse to quit school. I dropped out in 11 th grade.”

It wasn’t until years later that he went back to school, got his bachelors and a masters, and is now a PhD candidate at Nova Southeastern University, studying conflict resolution.

“I wondered when I studied for my masters why [conflict resolution] resonated with me,” he says. “It’s taken me this far.”

Three hundred miles and counting. “The first week my feet were just black and blue,” he says, “no blisters. After this I’ll be able to take my shoes off and walk through glass.

It’s amazing how resilient the body is and how it toughens up when it needs to. I’ve lost about 21 pounds — I’ve probably got 20 more that I need to get rid of, and I could have lost more, but McDonald’s is our national sponsor, so I’ve been eating pretty much three meals a day there.

“Most of the route it’s been just me by myself,” he says. “But the amazing part iss when complete strangers, they see it on the news or read it in the paper and they come out to make a donation or ask if they can walk with us. The stories we’ve gotten have been amazing. The walk was supposed to be about fundraising and awareness, and it’s become about the people and their stories. It’s been a cathartic walk for me so far.”

This particular story ends for Ewing on May 31, when he’ll walk into Greensboro’s Center City Park at 5 p.m. for the No More Bullies Rally, where Mayor Bill Knight, Guilford County Schools Superintendent Mo Green, police Chief Ken Miller and Busta Brown, along with Tammy Simpson, Brandon Bitner’s mother, will be there to welcome him home.

He’s looking forward to the finish line. “The first thing I’m gonna do,” he says, “after the rally, after I hug my wife and kids, I’ll probably go to College Hill and have a beer. That’s the one thing I miss: the friends, the down time. We haven’t had a lot of down time the last two or three weeks.”