Dear next governor: Walker swings through Amherst collecting messages for state’s future leader

  • Rodrigo Zamith, of Amherst, writes a message to the governor in a journal being compiled by BJ Hill, of Holden, Monday, July 9, 2018 at Amherst Coffee. Hill is collecting the messages as he walks from Williamstown to Provincetown. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Joe Kielczewski, of Wilbraham, writes a message to the governor in a journal being compiled by BJ Hill, of Holden, Monday, July 9, 2018 at Amherst Coffee. Hill is collecting the messages as he walks from Williamstown to Provincetown. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • BJ Hill, of Holden, talks with Marcia Bittencourt, left, and Jill Podell, both of Amherst, while collecting messages for the governor in a journal as he walks from Williamstown to Provincetown, Monday, July 9, 2018 at Amherst Coffee. Podell wrote a message, but Bittencourt decided not to. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Grace White, of Wyckoff, N.J., writes a message to the governor in a journal being compiled by BJ Hill, of Holden, Monday, July 9, 2018 at Amherst Coffee. Hill is collecting the messages as he walks from Williamstown to Provincetown. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jonathan Jackson, of Amherst, writes a message to the governor in a journal being compiled by BJ Hill, of Holden, Monday, July 9, 2018 at Amherst Coffee. Hill is collecting the messages as he walks from Williamstown to Provincetown. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ebru Dogan, left, of Amherst, writes a message to the governor in a journal being compiled by BJ Hill, of Holden, Monday, at Amherst Coffee. Hill is collecting the messages as he walks from Williamstown to Provincetown. Yingying Wang, from left, Xiaowei Deng and Juhani Julin look on. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • BJ Hill, of Holden, right, takes his journal from Stanley Maron and Sally Chaffee, both of Amherst, after they each wrote a message to the governor in it Monday outside Amherst Coffee. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2018 8:59:07 PM

AMHERST — Handwritten messages for the next president of the United States, collected by a Holden resident walking across the country in 2008, were given to President Barack Obama as he was settling into the White House for his first term.

Three years later, after getting an invitation to meet with Obama, BJ Hill undertook another venture. He walked from Boston to Washington, D.C., and again solicited messages from those he encountered along the way.

This month, Hill, 41, is making his fifth excursion on foot — and third from one end of Massachusetts to the other — that will eventually lead to a journal filled with messages from residents that he will give to the next Massachusetts governor.

“I have a notebook and ask people to write out personal messages to the next governor, be it Charlie Baker or one of the challengers,” Hill said by phone Monday afternoon, as he was making his way to Amherst. On Monday evening, Hill stood outside Amherst Coffee on Amity Street interacting with people and encouraging them to write any message they wanted to the gubernatorial candidates.

Walk Across Massachusetts 2018 began in the northwestern corner of the state at the New York border on Independence Day, and Hill will walk continuously through July 26, ending in Provincetown, except for a brief interlude when he will attend a wedding.

The messages being written are reminiscent of those obtained on his first walk in Massachusetts in 2006, just before Gov. Deval Patrick was elected governor.

“Don’t forget us here in western Massachusetts, that’s the theme that keeps coming back,” Hill said. “It’s an evergreen idea.”

In two of the towns, Charlemont and Conway, Hill learned how easily they feel their concerns are overlooked by those in Boston, its suburbs and the larger cities such as Springfield and Worcester.

People are more than happy to say what is on their minds, he said.

“It’s been very well received in all the towns I’ve been to in western Massachusetts,” Hill said.

In addition to bringing the messages to President Obama following a walk that went from San Francisco to Boston 10 years ago, Hill said he expected only a 10-minute visit when he presented the notebook to Baker following his election in 2014. Instead, he got to spend more than half an hour with Baker and noted he was genuinely interested in reading the messages.

“It was like giving a kid a comic book on Christmas morning,” Hill said. “That meeting extended longer than I expected.”

Unlike previous walks, Hill said his obligations as an English language learners instructor at a Worcester elementary school are preventing him from walking in October, closer to the election day. Still, he said he’s finding an engaged electorate.

Spending time outdoors is well worthwhile.

“I love hiking and being in nature after being cooped up in a 100-year-old elementary school the past 10 months,” Hill said.

Once the walk is complete, Hill said he anticipates returning to some communities before the November election, such as Northampton and Greenfield, giving people there an opportunity to give their own messages to the candidates.

He added that it is a pleasure to get the voices of people to politicians like the governor.

“It’s a good feeling to hear their voices and put their messages directly in governors’ hands,” Hill said.

On Tuesday morning, Hill said he was heading west on Route 9 as he ventures toward Pelham, Belchertown and Ware. With a sign displayed on his backpack, Hill said he welcomes people stopping him to write out their own views.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com


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