[INTERVIEW]: Amazing Guy Keeps His Promise to Walk Across Ohio for Sexual Violence Survivors

Photo: (becauseisaidiwould.com)

Photo: (becauseisaidiwould.com)

Alex Sheen is all about keeping his promises. As the founder of because I said I would, it’s the way he lives his life. When he first learned that three women were held captive and sexually abused for more than 10 years only miles from where he lived, he vowed to do something about it.

In honor of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, Sheen promised to dedicate 10 days of his life to one major act of kindness. The 28-year-old is walking 240 miles across Ohio, with his journey ending at the house where they were imprisoned, to raise awareness about sexual violence. Along the way Sheen hopes to raise money for the Cleveland Courage Fund, which directly benefits Berry, DeJesus and Knight, and RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

Check out Sheen’s video to learn more about the walk:

+ Watch Alex talk about his cross-state walk.

We caught up with Alex before he started his walk to find out more about what inspired his journey:  

ACT: Can you tell us about how you came up with the idea for because I said I would? 

ALEX: My dad was always good with his promises. You know, he wasn’t a perfect man by any stretch, but he kept his word. He said he was going to be there, he showed up. He was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer on June 4, 2011. On September 4, 2012, he died. I gave the eulogy, and when I was writing, I reflected on his life, and my dad’s great character was the force of his promises, his commitment to me and my brother. So, in his eulogy, I talked about his words, and I introduced the concept of the promise card.

It’s similar to a business card, completely blank on both sides except for the writing because I said I would in the corner. What you do is you just write a promise on the card, something that you’ve been putting off, or maybe a life goal that you have but everyday life has gotten in the way. Write that promise on the card then give it to someone. Tell them “I’m going to fulfill this promise, and when I do, I’ve earned this card back. This card belongs to me.” When you fulfill your promise and get your card back, you keep it to remind you that you’re a person of your word. So I started handing these cards out for the first time at the funeral, and then offered to send 10 of them free to anybody who requested them at becauseIsaidIwould.com.

ACT: Before the news broke about the three women in your area, did you know how prevalent sexual violence was in the US? Why did you decide to walk across Ohio in 10 days in the survivors’ names?

ALEX: Over 50% of all sexual violence crimes or sexual assaults are not reported, and one in six women have been the victim of attempted or completed rape. I did not know it was that prevalent until I started looking into it and reading information on RAINN.org. Whenever something like this happens, I try to take a little bit of an extra step to understand the issue — not just taking in the ridiculous coverage by the media — and just try to get a little more educated.

ACT: You mention the idea of Never Enough. After your walk, do you plan to keep raising awareness for survivors of sexual violence?

ALEX: I think that there are certainly a few reasons why I’m doing this project. One of them is that so this is burned in my memory forever, the impact of sexual violence on those three women and on our society as a whole. … I will never be able to forget. After this walk, I’ll continue to be an advocate for anti-sexual violence causes, and this is how I’m going to do it.

ACT: Ten days is quite a journey. What will you take with you? Any favorite songs on your iPod?

ALEX: When I was thinking about 10 days, I reflected on it and thought “Do you really care about these women?” There’s a quote from a gentleman named George Bell that says “You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to show up.” I really care that much about this cause, so I wanted to stretch myself as far as I could imagine. As far as what I’m going to carry, I have tons of promise cards so that my friend who will be dropping off food can also give people promise cards to have them make a commitment to show their support. I have two pairs of shoes; I have things I didn’t even know I needed, like Body Glide. I’ve got reflectors and a little bit of supplements so I can add to my drink, things of that nature. The shoes, the socks are important, special things for my calves so I can walk what will be required of me, which is between 8 to 10 hours a day.

For my music, there are a couple songs I have listened to during my training, The Killers new album, and then Passenger has a song called “Let Her Go.” During my training time, one of the big things I’ve listened to was actually Gandhi’s autobiography, which I completed on my last day of training.

ACT: Is there anything else we should know about your journey?

ALEX: This project is supported by RAINN, which is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, by Women Helping Women and the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. I urge people to support those efforts either nationally or local efforts to help the victims of sexual violence. People who hear the story can go to RAINN.org/neverenough and donate $10 for the 10 years of suffering those women have endured. $5 of which will go to RAINN to prevent things like this from happening again and to support victims, and the other $5 will go to the Cleveland Courage Fund which is set up solely for the purposes of supporting Amanda, Gina, Michelle and Amanda’s daughter, who was born in captivity.

If you don’t have money to donate to the Cleveland Courage Fund or to RAINN, you can follow Alex’s lead and complete an act of kindness for someone in need. For more ways to get involved, check out the action links below.

If you or someone you know need someone to talk to, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is free, confidential, and available 24/7 at 1.800.656.HOPE. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to someone over the phone, you can log on to the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline.

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