Eastern Band citizen completes running Trail of Tears Benge Route
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizen Kallup McCoy II on June 28 puts on a cape made of Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band tribal flags before the final turn into the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill. McCoy ran 777 miles of the Trail of Tears’ Benge Route from North Carolina to Oklahoma. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizen Kallup McCoy II, far right, makes a turn on June 28 at Park Hill Road in Tahlequah as he nears the end of his 777-mile Trail of Tears run. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PARK HILL – After running 777 miles of the Trail of Tears’ Benge Route, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizen Kallup McCoy II completed his run on June 28 at the Cherokee Heritage Center.
On his last day, McCoy made the final stretch from Stilwell to Park Hill with his girlfriend and EBCI citizen, Katelynn Ledford, and a group of Oklahoma Cherokees.
The runners were greeted at the CHC by Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band citizens, as well as CN Principal Chief Bill John Baker, CN Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and UKB Chief Joe Bunch.
McCoy ran into the CHC wearing a cape made of CN and UKB tribal flags tied together.
He said the run was not for him but for all Cherokees and to honor his ancestors who made the original journey due to the forced removals in the 1830s.
“I didn’t know what it meant to be Cherokee. I didn’t know what it meant to be proud of my culture, my people. Being out on this run, coming from where I came from and just getting up every day like our people had to do on their way out here and having to push through, I know what it means to be Cherokee, strong, resilient, tenacious, and to love and to forgive,” McCoy said.
He began the run to Oklahoma on May 14 in Cherokee, North Carolina. He averaged about 20 miles per day and stopped at several Trail of Tears markers. McCoy documented his journey via Facebook and met people along the way in support of his efforts.
He said he ran to raise awareness for people struggling and recovering from drug addiction and to raise funds for his nonprofit organization Rez HOPE Recovery. He said he was able to raise nearly $5,000.
“Whenever we see people for their experiences, we see people any differently than us, we’re falling short of the mark,” he said. “It’s not a drug problem we’re in, it’s an opportunity to win souls.
It’s an opportunity to heal our people. And the only way we’re going to do that is by banding together and putting aside our differences. God saved me from six overdoses and so many near death experiences, and three of those times I was flat lined.”
McCoy talked about his experiences at the CHC such as doing drugs at age 11 and drinking at age 13. He said he lost college scholarships to run track and play football and began stealing pain medication and money when his father was ill.
“I got to a point to where I couldn’t stand myself. It ultimately led me to getting sick. It turns us into people we don’t realize who we are,” he said.
McCoy said is now looking for the next opportunity, which is opening a recovery house in Cherokee and to start placing recovery houses around the country, including Oklahoma.
“Building leadership, people that’s struggling with drug addiction and alcohol or whatever it may be. I think that we need to realize that they’re more than just addicts and junkies and felons and the list goes on and on. I was once there, and I was more than that. I think it’s important for me to tell people to reach back and say you are more than that. That’s somebody’s son, daughter, sister, brother. It’s getting Rez HOPE out here, spreading it across the country. That’s my vision,” he said.