Going the Extra Mile for Freedom

I moved to Cleveland, Ohio, when I was 13 years old. It wasn’t a first move for my family, we moved nearly every three years, but it wasn’t an easy one. We left the sunny shores of Virginia Beach, where I had made many good friends and had many weekends at the beach, and moved to the west side of Cleveland. My first impression that it was cloudy. But my outlook remained sunny. I liked the excitement of moving, of making new friends, a fresh new start. 

Still, no matter where you live the prospect of entering middle school years is scary for anyone. I walked just over a mile from my house on W. 133rd Street to Carl F. Schuler Jr. High. When I went to high school, I walked just under two miles to John Marshall High School. That is the same school attended by Amanda Berry — one of three women recently freed from a west side Cleveland home after being held captive for 10 years. 

From my house to the house on Seymour, where Amanda was held prisoner, raped and tortured, was just five miles. This is a haunting news story of international interest, but for me, who grew up in that area and is now the mother of a young girl, it’s literally and figuratively hitting close to home. 

We think of the horrific crimes of kidnapping, rape and human trafficking as something unconscionable that happens to other people in other towns. But it can hit close to home, as our cover story points out.

While we are more sophisticated in technology and tracking people and processing evidence, sex crimes are increasing. In fact, sexual assault has surged by 35 percent since 2010 among the very heroes we hold in highest regard — our men and women in uniform. How ironic. With a top U.S. Air Force officer under investigation for the very crime he is supposed to be holding others accountable for, it seems no one is safe and everyone is suspect. 

Recently, one of our own, a company president, a respectable member of our Emerald Coast community once honored as Man of the Year, was arrested for child pornography and is now awaiting his day in court. 

One of the many dramatic facts about the Cleveland case is that the alleged perpetrator was just a “regular Joe.” As America’s Most Wanted John Walsh says, he is one of the many predators hiding among us “in plain sight.” 

On the days they were snatched, Amanda Berry was a young teen coming home from a part time job at Burger King; Gina DeJesus was walking home from school; Michelle Knight was heading to a family member’s home.

I graduated from John Marshall High School, the very high school Amanda Berry attended. When I was around 22, I got my own apartment and while living on my own celebrated eight more birthdays with family and friends before moving away from Cleveland. During that time, Amanda Berry was raped, became pregnant and raised her daughter in captivity. While I was going through my 20s trying to build a career and dating, Amanda Berry was trying simply to survive and trying to be noticed from one of the few uncovered windows in her prison. It is reported that her abductor changed her birthday to the day she was kidnapped. After taking everything from her, he even took her birthday. 

In many ways we have isolated ourselves from one another. We line our yards with fences and trees to be sure to give our neighbors and ourselves space and privacy. But if we hope to see our children enjoy the simple pleasures of growing up, we must be vigilant in creating a safe neighborhood and being a good neighbor. We must pay closer attention to what is going on around us. We must go the extra mile, so our children do not walk in fear to school, a first job or a friend or neighbor’s house. We must go the extra mile to protect our sisters, mothers and most vulnerable, our children. We must go the extra mile so all of our children have all of their birthdays enjoying a basic human civil right — freedom. 

Isn’t that the least we can do?

Zandra Wolfgram

Categories: Opinion