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BLACK LIVES MATTER: Alabama man marches to Minnesota with message of change

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Terry Willis talks to Rochester residents downtown

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) - Terry Willis started walking in Huntsville, Alabama and is marching a thousand miles to Minneapolis to the exact spot where George Floyd died.

He is marching for change, something many in Rochester and across the country are fighting for.

"I'm smacking back," said Willis. "This is just my way."

Angred by George Floyd's death, he decided to do something extreme to bring the Black Lives Matter movement into the spotlight.

"Cant just sit back and watch," said the Huntsville resident. "We've been sitting back and watching and that's why we're at this stage."

His message is based on three principles: change, justice and equality.

"Just for us to be seen as equals. That's it. It's real simple," Willis said. "It's crazy that I got to walk a thousand miles for that to get attention but I'll do what I have to do."

Here in Rochester, residents say change is needed in the Med City.

"We're not getting help. There's nothing. There's not a change. We got a label on our back." said resident Christie Wilkins.

"Everything," agreed longtime resident Crystal Smith. "Everything from the government center to the school district."

Smith says she sees more black people in Rochester than when she first moved here 30 years ago but has yet to changes to support the community.

"I've seen a lot in change in us but not a lot of change for us," Smith said. "Ain't nothing changed but the weather."

One change they'd like to see in Rochester is the availability of affordable housing in the Med City.

"We got people living over here in this park. You see what I'm saying? They are living over in this park in a tent," said Smith.

There is also a call for a change in the system, something some say prevents them from improving their lives.

"What does that lead us back to? If you're shutting me down and I can't get an apartment, a job and you are steady shutting me down, what does that lead me back to? The streets," said Wilkins.

The passionate conversations motivate Willis, but his son is what keeps him walking 40 to 50 miles per day.

"I'll tell him 115 [miles left] and he'll scream, 'Dad I love you and I can't wait til you get home,'" said Willis.

He hopes the national attention on racism forces more to take action.

"As long as everyone is doing something then we'll get things done," Willis promises. "We'll see change."

After more than a month on the road, Willis says he is ready for the finish line but is unsure how he will feel once he crosses it.

Rochester residents say they are encouraged by Willis but hope that local politicians hear their voices. They urge these leaders to use members of the black communities to help bring about change.

Alex Tejada

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