For 54 years, Shawn Dromgoole's family has lived on the same corner in the same neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee, and the 29-year-old, who's black, has walked down those streets all his life.
In the wake of George Floyd's death, however, Dromgoole didn't feel at home or even safe in his own community. He worried what would happen if one of his white neighbors saw him, didn't recognize him and called the cops, he told TODAY.
Floyd died May 25 after Minneapolis police arrested him and an officer pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes. A bystander recorded the altercation with a cellphone.
Dromgoole took to social media to share "what was on my heart," he said. He posted Wednesday on Facebook and later on Nextdoor, an app that connects people living in the same neighborhoods.
"Yesterday I wanted to walk around my neighborhood but the fear of not returning home to my family alive kept me on my front porch," he wrote. "Today I wanted to walk again and I could not make it off the porch. Then I called my mother, Lynetra, and she said she would walk with (me). I still kept my ID on me and my phone in my hand but I walked."
Before posting, Dromgoole wasn't a fan of Nextdoor because he often saw messages on it about "suspicious black men walking in the neighborhood," he said. "It was terrifying to me. ... I'm like, 'These people hate me in this neighborhood.'"
He added that his neighborhood has been gentrifying in recent years and that he's been stopped by police for "walking while black" before. "It's not a new reality," he explained.
But the flood of responses to his post on Nextdoor didn't align with his expectations. He said the day it went up, 150 strangers who lived nearby answered, offering to walk with him, apologizing for making him feel the way he did and thanking him for his honesty.
He asked the people who wanted to walk with him to meet in the parking lot of a local restaurant. About 75 showed up, he said, and they all went for a stroll together.
"It was such an amazing feeling," Dromgoole recalled. "My neighbors were behind me, and they had my back. That was my reaction. I’m still dumbfounded by all the support."
Because the first gathering was impromptu, Dromgoole is planning to host another group walk through his neighborhood this Thursday.
"I just want to walk, not parade, not march," he said. "I remember just walking as a kid. In a world that's so complicated with technology and things, sometimes you just need to walk off your front porch and say hey to your neighbor."
Dromgoole's concerns over how people perceive him as a black man are not unique, he stressed.
"When Ahmaud Arbery got killed for running in his neighborhood, that could be me very easily in my neighborhood," he said, referring to a black man in Georgia who was shot dead in February. "But now I feel safe on my street. It feels completely different."