She was nervously sitting in the Atrium Medical Center emergency room with her ill husband when she saw a flurry of activity outside. A steady stream of ambulances — with their lights and sirens activated — sped into the hospital parking lot.
“I watched them come through like it was a McDonald’s,” Pat Herndon said. “Just driving through. I never in my life seen something like that. That was really terrible. That blew me away. Every five minutes here they came. It was a circle.”
Now, the Middletown woman said, it’s time for a march, what she hopes is an answer to reduce heroin’s grip on the city.
Herndon, 67, her good friend, Josephine Gates, 65, and other women have organized what they called: “This Means War! 500 Women March Against Heroin,” scheduled for next month in Middletown. There will be four keynote speakers and marchers are encouraged to bring a lawn chair and wear military attire.
“We will be going to war that day,” Herndon said while standing near Yankee Road and Ninth Avenue, where the Sept. 23 march will begin.
It’s time to fight back, the ladies said.
“God showed me this and God don’t make no mistakes,” Herndon said when asked how she got the idea for the march. “We are tired of all the heroin, tired of all the children being left in the cars and moms and dads overdosing.”
Gates has spent her entire life in Middletown. Her hometown, like all cities, has seen its share of drug issues over the years. But eventually those drugs run their course. Heroin, it seems, is here to stay.
“When it touches home, it’s time to do something,” Gates said. “Everybody’s home, I don’t care who it is, has some type of drug relation in their house. This small town, Middletown, has never something like this. It’s nationwide. Never seen anything like this. Never. Every day you turn your TV on, it’s Middletown.”
The women realize when tragedies strike, residents respond with marches. If a teen gets shot and killed on Friday night, you can expect an anti-violent march Saturday morning. But once the signs have been put away, the violence usually returns to the neighborhood.
So what makes these women believe their March Against Heroin will be any different, because they have already heard the whispers from the doubters?
“I had a friend tell me, ‘You can march all you want but you still will have people selling drugs,’” Gates said. “Well that may be true but we’re showing them we’re ready for a change. If you believe in Jesus Christ, a change will come.”
Herndon then added: “It’s a seed planted. I promise you, as I stand here before you, God will move and there will be a change made. If it’s one life it won’t be in vain.”
Herndon said she invited Hamilton pastor Dennis Matheny, 69, to the march. Recently, Matheny felt the drug activity in his Hamilton Parkamo Avenue neighborhood had grown so out of control that he decided to combat the problem on his street by sitting outside with a “No Drugs Today” sign, aimed at drug dealers and addicts.
She also plans to contact Middletown High School students about getting involved. She believes you can’t preach an anti-drug message too early.
“If you get them now, we won’t have this epidemic like we have now,” she said. “This is just the beginning. We are going to take back our city.”
When Gates reads the obituaries in the newspaper, she pauses when she sees that another young person has died. Heroin is robbing us of our future.
“It’s heartbreaking because that’s a young life that’s gone to waste,” Gates said. “Gone too soon. Everybody is going to leave here, but they are taking their lives too soon. Jesus can take them higher than any heroin can.”
Gates paused, looked down the street, then declared: “It’s down with dope and up with hope. You got to have hope. Every day you get up, you got to have hope that you’re going to make it to another day.”