ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Like any journey of 1,000 miles, Terry Willis’ journey from Alabama to Minnesota began with a proverbial first step.

Willis is on the final leg of a walking journey from his home in Huntsville, Ala., to the spot where George Floyd died at the hands of police in Minneapolis. He said the walk is to raise awareness of racial injustice and to build support for equality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Willis arrived in Minnesota on Monday, July 6, and walked through Rochester on Wednesday, July 8.

Willis said the first step in the journey was seeing the video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

“It was watching a cop -- someone who’s supposed to protect us -- murder a man on camera,” Willis said. “I knew I had to do something.”

He set out from Huntsville on June 2 with two pairs of running shoes to walk more than 1,000 miles to 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis where Floyd was killed.

Willis said he saw himself in Floyd.

A master carpenter in Alabama, Willis said he had more than brushes with the law growing up and has been arrested and incarcerated.

“I could have been George Floyd,” Willis said. “That’s why it really hits home.”

Anthony Brown follows Willis with a support truck and supplies while documenting the journey on social media.

As Willis amasses the miles, he also gathers followers, friends and supporters on his journey. People have offered food, shelter, funding and more shoes. Physical therapists and massage therapists have offered their services. He now has 15 pairs of good shoes to help ease the strain of his journey. Despite that support, Willis says he’s beyond sore.

“Right now it’s all mental,” he said. “My body gave up a long time ago.”

With less than 150 miles to go and about $15,000 toward a GoFundMe campaign goal, Willis said his mental stamina has its limits. He took Tuesday off to rest and be alone. People following his journey on social media were concerned after last seeing him near Winona Monday evening.

“I try not to take days off,” he said. “Even on my days off I still walk, because I miss my son -- I want to get home.”

Levenius Hodges was somewhat concerned Tuesday when he did not see updates on Willis’ social media most of the day. Hodges, who lives in Chatfield, said he has been following Willis’ journey since he left Alabama and was excited to see Willis reaching his area of Minnesota. When Willis went live off Facebook and Instagram from Rochester, Hodges went to find him and meet him in person.

“I jumped right out of bed,” Hodges said. “I’ve been waiting.”

A Fitbit records each of Willis’ steps while Brown watches the miles rack up from the truck and plots the best routes. He tries to avoid major highways with heavy traffic. However, even the backroads can be well traveled. Willis chose secondary highways from Interstate 90 to Winona on Monday.

Still, “it was more busy than a regular highway,” Brown said.

Terry Willis pauses in downtown Rochester during his walk from Hunstville, Alabama to Minneapolis to honor George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police May 25, in a call for change, justice and equality. (John Molseed/jmolseed@postbulletin.com)
Terry Willis pauses in downtown Rochester during his walk from Hunstville, Alabama to Minneapolis to honor George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police May 25, in a call for change, justice and equality. (John Molseed/jmolseed@postbulletin.com)

Willis plans to arrive in Minneapolis on Saturday, July 11, and walk to the site where Floyd died on Sunday. After that, he will probably fly home.

However, Willis said if he feels moved by a higher power to do something else, he will.

“If God tells me to walk back, I would,” he said. “Hopefully he doesn’t.”