Massachusetts native B.J. Hill walked through Lodi back in 2008 and walked across the country to collect advice for the new president who would take office the following January.
Since Hill’s walk took place before the 2008 election, nobody knew at the time whether the next president would be Barack Obama or John McCain. But finally, Hill will personally deliver his written advice to Obama on Thursday. He has an appointment for 11:40 a.m. EST.
“I’ll probably only get 10 minutes with Obama,” Hill said in a recent phone interview, but that’s alright with him.
He left for the White House on Nov. 1 — after all, it takes a long time to walk 450 miles from Boston.
Hill waited three years to deliver the messages to Obama because he wanted to make sure the chief executive would read them. His U.S. Senator, John Kerry, ran interference for him and arranged the Dec. 1 meeting.
Hill, a teacher at the time who now works for a nonprofit children’s adoption agency in Worcester, Mass., began his cross-country walk at the Golden Gate Bridge on March 1, 2008, and made it into Lodi 10 days later. He arrived in Boston on Nov. 2, 2008 after asking people throughout the country to write personal messages to the next president.
Hill said he collected thousands of handwritten messages from welfare recipients to business owners to teachers and farmers. Topics ranged from the economy to the environment, UFO research and the war on terrorism. There were also notes of congratulations and advice for marital bliss.
He’s collecting a few more messages during his walk from Boston to Washington.
Hill said he’s glad that, despite the time lag in delivering Obama the messages, only about one-third of them are outdated. The remainder are universal in nature and are still appropriate for 2011. In fact, many of the 2008 messages aren’t issue-oriented, he said.
Messages from Lodi included:
- “May you not forget your childhood, your youth, your idealism.”
- “Health care is at the core of what we do. Money and health care are related.”
- “Just be honest; we can deal with everything as long as you’re honest.”
- “Improve the economy in California.”
- “The gas prices are outrageous.”
Hill intended to send the messages to the president shortly after returning to the East Coast in late 2008, but things fell through.
“I made some attempts to deliver these volumes to the White House,” Hill wrote last week in an email to journalists and well-wishers. “I tried the White House directly, my own governor, even Michelle Obama, but received only rejection letter after rejection letter.”
Then Hill got sidetracked — publishing a book, working for the nonprofit, writing a monthly newspaper column, organizing other cross-country walkers, teaching safety to fifth-graders, volunteering in earthquake relief efforts in Haiti and tornado relief in Alabama and Massachusetts, and getting a new girlfriend.
But friends kept reminding him about the notes he was going to send Obama.
“Two months ago, on a lark, I emailed a woman who worked in Sen. John Kerry’s office whom I had met in 2008,” Hill wrote in last week’s email. “I explained that I still possessed the journals and asked if there was a way Sen. Kerry could help arrange a brief meeting at the White House.
“She forwarded my email to President Obama’s deputy chief of staff, who wrote back to her and said it was highly unlikely a face-to-face (meeting) would happen, but have me write to her directly anyway.
“I sat down ... and crafted the most persuasive letter of my life,” Hill said. “The next day, I received her response — she was impressed with what I had done, and I was officially on the agenda.”
For updates on Hill’s walk from Boston to Washington and his 2008 cross-country walk, visit www.walkamerica2008.com or www.walktothewhitehouse.com, or follow him on Twitter at @WalkWhiteHouse. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, though he said texting is the best form of communication. Hill advises emailing him for the phone number before texting.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.