Yesterday at Seville Square, fighting the cold, evening breeze people wait for Lauren Book to make her pit-stop in Pensacola, from Key West, for her Walk in My Shoes campaign. There’s teal t-shirts with campaign’s logo, a table full of pamphlets and a poster with the message, “It Should Not Hurt to be a Child,” in red.
Book’s bus arrives and she walks out, wrapped in a sea-foam green blanket.
“It’s freezing,” she called out.
She’s cheery and happy despite the weather. She smiles and shakes hands with her greeters.
Book has embarked on a 1,500 mile journey to raise awareness about sexual abuse and to let victims know, “It’s Ok to Tell,” which is also the title of her memoir.
Book was a victim of sexual and physical abuse from her female nanny starting at the age of 11. The next six years of her life were controlled by the woman who abused her until 2002, when Book’s boyfriend encouraged her to tell someone what was happening. Book told her therapist, who told her father. Since then, Book and her father have been strong advocates for the cause.
This is Book’s third year walking the walk. Each year, she has expanded starting at 500 miles to this year’s 1,500 mile trek. It wasn’t an easy—Book survived pneumonia and one of her devoted walkers had a root canal during their time on the road.
The Gulf Coast Kid’s House, Lakeview Rape Crisis Center, Florida Department of Children and Families, Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) and Lutheran Services Florida were there to support Book.
“We’re grateful that Lauren would be willing to do this,” said Janice Thomas of Florida Department of Children and Families. “It’s a commitment of time and money…”
“…and knees,” Book interrupted with a smile.
“What we really would like to happen is for our services not to be needed,” Thomas said. “The only way to start stopping is to talk about it.”
When Book dropped the blanket and took her turn to speak, she made it a point to show her appreciation for the support she received by making everyone clap and pat themselves on the back.
“I’m honored to be here,” she said. “Thank you – from a little girl who had nobody.”
After she spoke, another survivor approached Book. Without missing a beat, Book hugged her tight.
Unfortunately, child abuse has been a topic in the national headlines. The only light to come at the end of that tunnel is that people are more willing to help.
“The community is starting to wake up,” said Stacey Kostevicki, executive director of Gulf Coast Kid’s House. “There has been an increase in volunteers and general outreach.”
Book says this walk is the “physical manifestation of my journey as a survivor.”
“You do become a thriving survivor,” she said. “I’m a warrior in the crusade to end sexual exploitation.”
At this point in her walk, which continues until Wednesday, Feb. 22, Book has gone through three pairs of sneakers. The 27-year-old says she feels 90.
This morning at 9 a.m. another crowd gathered at Plaza de Luna for Book as she departs Pensacola to make her way to Fort Walton Beach. Kostevicki had said the day before that they would meet, rain or shine, to send Book off.
The grey mood didn’t affect Book who was under an umbrella doing an interview with WUWF. Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan chats with the leather-clad BACA team and walkers are warming up in their ‘Walk in My Shoes’ t-shirts.
Escambia and Santa Rosa County law enforcement and State Attorney Bill Eddins were there to send Book off with well wishes.
“Guys, be careful out there, roads are slick,” Morgan said to the bikers. “My heard and admiration goes out to Lauren, Godspeed and be careful.”
Santa Rosa County Sheriff Wendell Hall gave his appreciation to Book and said he hoped we won’t need advocacy centers one day.
“A little bit of rain can’t stop you, Lauren,” said Pensacola Chief of Police, Chip Simmons.
Eddins pointed out that Book’s efforts have resulted in positive changes. Laws have strengthened and advocacy houses have been built.
“The efforts you’ve made do make a difference,” he said to Book about her campaign. “Children have reported sexual abuse who would not have done so without the education.”
When Book took the microphone again she wished everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day.
“I’m so happy to share my heart with you,” she said. “A piece of my heart is with you each and every day.”
You can learn more about Book and her journey at laurenskids.org.