May 28, 2023

Unity Walk set for Sept. 10 in Clinton
By India K. Autry [email protected]
Heather Dixon, founder of the non-profit Changing Lives 365 and Unity Walk organizer, left, with business owner and fellow event organizer Stephanie Graham.
Michael B. Hardison | Sampson Independent
Unity Walk set for Sept. 10 in Clinton
Michael B. Hardison | Sampson Independent
Clinton’s Unity Walk, scheduled for Sept. 10, seeks to reclaim the city as a place of safety and belonging in the wake of violence and loss. The event has already attracted significant support and event organizer Heather Dixon, founder of the non-profit Changing Lives 365, said the day of hope and healing will bring in more change for the community.
The walk will start at 2 p.m. next Saturday at Union Grove Church of Christ on Lisbon Street and follow a 10-minute residential route to Newkirk Memorial Park, where entertainment and food will be enjoyed throughout the afternoon. Dixon has enlisted the help of business owner Stephanie Graham and well-known local activist Patty Cherry to help plan the event.
The women invite everyone to join. “We’re going to march. We’re going to rejoice. We’re going into the park to lift it up high, with high energy,” Dixon declared. “We’re not going to be party poopers. We’re going to go out there and do one thing: sell hope.”
Cherry has been overwhelmed by all of the support the event has inspired so far. “It’s been phenomenal. I haven’t had anyone to turn us down yet. If I ask for something small, they offer me something big.”
Performance Ford is providing their largest rollback tent and 300 hot dogs. Lisbon Street Baptist Church matches with 300 bottles of water, and another sponsor is providing drinks. Hope Valley Hawkins Funeral Service & Cremation is offering a tent and 60 chairs for people who can’t bring their own folding chairs. For attendees, everything is free.
Major food chains in the area have stepped up as sponsors. The new owner of Domino’s in Clinton is bringing her family to the event to meet members of the community and is offering gift certificates. The McDonald’s contribution is still in the works, but Cherry hopes they will provide their famous Hi-C orange drink.
Nissan of Clinton has written a check in sponsorship of the Unity Walk. Sessoms Jewelry, Villaver Law Firm, The Detox Bar Wellness Center downtown, and local doctors Rodney Sessoms and Ted Thomas also are sponsoring.
Cherry welcomes potential sponsors to contact her at 910-224-5347. “We will accept whatever, along with their attendance,” she said. There will be a logo board at the park acknowledging the sponsors.
Harriet Bryant, a well-known nurse at Sampson Regional Medical Center, will be breaking out her line-dancing talents, Cherry noted. Becky Spell of Tim’s Gift is signed up to give remarks of encouragement at the event.
Graham, fellow organizer, rattled off the list. There will be a bouncy house, sound system, an emcee, performers and motivational speakers. “It started as a vision in Heather’s belly here, but now this thing has really taken a storm of itself,” she marvelled.
The organizers expect a lot of children to be in attendance, given their outreach to schools and daycare centers. “The young people still have the opportunity to grow and to see the other side of how people live.”
Dixon also wants to reach the broken mother, the single father and the little girl with low self-esteem, so that they see someone at the Unity Walk that inspires them. She wants every sector of the city to come together that day. After all, as the dynamo Dixon states, “There’s no community without unity.”
Graham reached out to small businesses, and the event will have more than a dozen vendors raising awareness about what they do or hosting games such as raffles. “We’re not charging for the space,” she said. “All we’re asking for them to do is give something free back.”
Sampson County Health Department, Sampson Regional, Sampson County Veterans Services Office, the Boy Scouts, various fraternities and sororities and perhaps Tar Heel ChalleNGe Academy will be on hand as community resources.
The Clinton Fire Department will be in attendance, ready to take on challengers in the wobble dance competition. “We are going to get out there and have fun,” Dixon said. “We want it to be that day that reminds you, today is a good day.”
Dixon sees it as an event in the same vein as the National Night Out celebration held in the same park on the first Tuesday of August, meant to bring law enforcement and the community closer together to make the city safer for all. In fact, Sheriff Jimmy Thornton is scheduled to speak at the event.
The City of Clinton is eager for the Unity Walk event, Cherry has gathered through her preparations. “The city is reaching out, they’re saying yes,” she noted. “I’m sure that they’re tired of the violence.”
The Honorable Paul Hardison, the state district judge presiding over Sampson County, and Mayor Lew Starling have already put the festivities on their dance cards.
Dixon is grateful to have Cherry’s help in planning. “I needed one yes, and she was that one yes,” Dixon considered. “It’s inspiring what one yes will give you. It will give you a multitude of other people saying yes.”
The organizers hope to make the Unity Walk an annual event. Eventually, Dixon would like to see it mandated for people who are on probation and parole and live-streamed into prisons and jails. “If we’re going to make impact, we’re going to have to target the population,” she explained. “And sometimes that population is just not motivated to go.”
After the event, Dixon plans to apply for grants that will benefit the community. She has worked with teens toward gang prevention in the past, and she wants to resuscitate the recreational department. “If there’s no recreations, what is the recreation now taking place?” She queried. “I’m a business owner and leader — it’s my responsibility to be a community builder. If I want to live and win here, it’s my responsibility to address it.”
Changing Lives 365 seeks to reach individuals and address their suffering on a personal level — for example providing clothing, socks and shoes to the area homeless. The shooting death of Jeffrey Scott Melvin, a man living near Newkirk Park, on the Saturday before July Fourth inspired Dixon to create this Unity Walk event.
Dixon was sitting on her front porch when she heard the shots ring out, assuming they were fireworks. Later, she would find that it was the sound of a life being taken, a life she had recently touched. “Right before he passed away, we had a conversation,” Dixon recounted. “And I was able to give him hope, and he was a young boy who was aspiring to change.”
As Dixon has gone door-to-door evangelizing her event, she observed the fear her neighbors have of the outside world, but she said hearing about the Unity Walk gave them something to look forward to. “Looking at the cry for help, we don’t want to mask the hurt, but we want to come back now and be loud,” Dixon asserted. “After we give back hope, what do we do with it? Having a day of laughter, a day of peace.”
Cherry, who Dixon adoringly refers to as the “Modern-day Mother Teresa,” has faith in the Unity Walk event. “When you talk to people and nobody turns you down, I mean what more can you ask for?” Cherry pointed out. “I pray that it’s going to attract quite a few people.”
India K. Autry can be reached at 910-249-4617.
T: 910-592-8137
F: 910-592-8756
109 W. Main St.
Clinton, NC 28328


Leave a Reply