Weather Forecast


Connell shares message of hope at Freedom Walk celebration

Sage Gonzalez, 4, holds the flag of Zimbabwe while the Red Lake Nation flag flies in the foreground at the beginning of the Freedom Walk at Paul Bunyan Park. Ben Karkela | Bemidji Pioneer

Jason Connell dropped out of college at the age of 19 and started traveling. He admits his only goal was to party in as many places as possible.

While visiting China, he witnessed a scene of horrific poverty that changed his outlook on life: a teenage girl rummaging through trash in searching for food to give to her infant child.

Connell then vowed to make a difference in the world, and has since spent his time volunteering in some of the the most impoverished places on earth.

Connell was the keynote speaker at Bemidji's 13th annual Freedom Walk, an event celebrating the works of Martin Luther King Jr. His speech, titled "Changing the World 101," talked about what can be done to make changes and coincided with King's belief in fighting social injustice.

"Think about the possibility that you can make a difference locally and globally," Connell said. "Every single person can make a difference."

Connell gave more examples of the poverty he encountered in his travels and told audience members ways they could take action to make a difference in other people's lives.

The Freedom Walk started at Paul Bunyan Park where students and area residents gathered to carry flags and march to the Beaux Arts Ballroom at Bemidji State University.

Event Coordinator John Kovach and Bemidji City Manager John Chattin led the walk by carrying the banner down Paul Bunyan Avenue.

"It draws attention for the need for us to all get along," Chattin said.

Chattin has served on the Bemidji Area Race Relations Council for five years.

Miskwasin Spears, a freshman at Bemidji State, carried the Red Lake Nation flag during the march.

"It was good to see some of the younger people come out," Spears said. "The diversity and different races that showed up made it a lot of fun."

Spears is a member of the Red Lake Indian Reservation and studies American Indian studies and Ojibwe language. He plans to come back to Bemidji State and teach Ojibwe language after he graduates.

The march was a way to honor those who took part in the civil rights movement.

Chinwuba Okafor works in the Hobson Memorial Union at Bemidji State helped organize the event.

"Part of the civil rights movement was a lot of marches," Okafor said. "It's a way that people show opposition or stand up for a belief.

Okafor also said that the event took a different approach this year. Part of that approach included having a speaker who talked about making impacts not just in the United States, but all across the world.

"It's part of King's legacy," Okafor said. "His message was not just about racial inequality, it was about social injustice on a broad scale."

Before Connell's speech, people attending the event gathered in the Beaux Arts Ballroom and witnessed a pipe ceremony by Don Day. During the ceremony, Day thanked the four directions, mother earth, father sky and the water. The Kingbird Singers performed an honor song and pianist Abe Hunter played "Lift Every Voice and Sing."