We live in an age of walks and runs, and I’m not talking about baseball. It seems as though nearly every organization will sponsor some kind of event that is intended to get people moving for some bigger purpose, like disease research, feeding the hungry or saving animals. I generally like the approach of these initiatives, because they involve the potential donor in active ways that money donation alone cannot, and the exercise by itself is a good thing! But every once in a while, an individual will embark on an undertaking that does not necessarily invite throngs of participants or the clicks of many cameras, but rather demonstrates a kind of quiet commitment, a solitary sojourn to symbolize something important.
A young Korean woman by the name of Kyong Juhn will simply begin to walk. But it won’t be just another Sunday stroll in the Spring. Kyong Juhn will commence a journey of 323 miles on foot, starting in Rochester, Minnesota and ending in Bemidji, Minnesota some three weeks later. The purposes of the trek are several: Ms. Juhn will re-create the long pedestrian migration of her mother from North Korea to South Korea a generation ago, a much more demanding effort; Ms. Juhn will walk, as the event is called, “For Hope and Peace,” an initiative which some may view as naive, but which is something she can do; and finally, Ms. Juhn likely hopes that her pilgrimage will awaken in all who might chance to see or read about her what commitment looks like.
The first rationale of her hike is beautiful in its honor and remembrance of Ms. Juhn’s mother. I do not know the particulars behind the woman’s journey from North Korea to the south, but I can imagine its dangers and demands and the perseverance required to complete such steps. I can further infer that the odyssey was undertaken before Ms. Juhn had been born, imbuing her trek with a determination for her future, and whatever child or children might inhabit that world in the fullness of time. Ms. Juhn will pay a remarkable homage to a woman who is known to very few of us, but who has earned our deep and enduring respect, and her daughter’s abiding love.
Her second rationale for walking might well be a reflection of the artist who is Kyong Juhn. She is a School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) Distinguished Scholar Scholarship awardee, who recently finished her Fine Arts degree at SAIC, where she studied photography and art history. Self-described as having transformed herself from a first generation immigrant-homemaker to a tenacious artist who expresses the complexities of rediscovered identities after returning to school, Ms. Juhn is a creator. Through whatever media or motion suits her need for expression, she undertakes this walk because it conveys an image, a story- several stories, in fact- in manifestation of a deeply-held worldview. This walk is her art on display. Pursuit of peace and hope may be daunting ideas, but the walk is tangible and the act of doing it is an imaginative statement in time which sorely needs personal acts of harmony.
Ms. Juhn will be supported, in part, by the organization Vets for Peace, which will accompany her. They will follow her progress with a “SAG” (support and gear) vehicle for her safety and immediate needs during the trip. (In fact, the sag vehicle is a Vets for Peace bus funded, in part, by a gift from WPF Founders Harold and Louise Nielsen.) With help from VFP, Ms. Juhn will seek all the attention that she can get for the purpose of her walk, so that people like you and me will understand that this is what is required of us: that we have the capacity to make an impact in whatever ways are within us, that we each have a role to play, a responsibility for the good or ill that becomes our collective life together. But we are called to actually do what we imagine, to actually take the first steps for hope and peace.
She will take her first steps on May 6, according to the route below. I hope the date does not find me standing still….