On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Leila Dockery found three pennies during a three-mile walk through the Pankey neighborhood of West Little Rock. Those three pennies, and those three miles, mark the conclusion of Dockery’s three-year walking journey. She has walked every street in every neighborhood in Little Rock. And she’s got a map to prove it.
Dockery, 62, said she started running in the early 1980s, and with age and a few injuries, that running turned to walking. She started walking in 2009 through her Overlook neighborhood in Central Little Rock, and as she has “never been a person who could do the same route every day,” she quickly branched out to exploring other areas of the city. One morning in the summer of 2015, she was walking on Kavanaugh Boulevard and found several city maps sitting on a concrete table.
“It just hit me that I could take a map and I could color in everywhere I’d already been, and then I could sort of get organized about knocking it out,” she said. “[I thought], ‘How fun would it be if you did every single street in Little Rock? Wouldn’t that be cool?’ So I just started working at it.”
“This thing is so tattered now,” Dockery said. “I finally got to the point where I started running off a copy of a section to be sure that I didn’t miss anything.”
The map has traveled with her on every street, where she’s found all manner of left-behind items: IDs, debit cards and lots of loose change, which she collects until she has enough to fill up a jar. She then cashes it in and gives it to the benevolent fund at her church, Calvary Baptist.
According to Dennis Webb, a geographic information system analyst in Little Rock’s civil engineering department, there are approximately 1,124.23 street miles in the city. That’s not counting interstates, interstate access ramps, alleys or private streets (streets in cemeteries or gated communities), and it means Dockery has walked at least this many miles during her journey. The total number of miles Dockery walked could be considerably higher, since some walks required her to take the same route in reverse back to her car.
Formerly the vice president of network development at Baptist Health for 33 years, Dockery retired in 2014, and she said she’s relieved her days are no longer dictated by a calendar. She now works part-time for interior design firm Tom Chandler & Associates “when they need extra help.” She sometimes walks with friends, or with a hiking group called the Trail Siblings. But part of her newfound freedom manifests in her solo walks around the city.
“I like going when I want to go, going where I want to go, at the pace I want to go,” she said. “I have to compromise some of that for the companionship of being with other people.”
This balance — between the independence of walking alone and the joy she finds in walking with others — is why Dockery never intended her campaign of walking every street in the city to be a strict one.
“It was a challenge I wanted to accomplish, but it was never onerous,” she said. “It was always fun to color in another section.”
Dockery said the walks have been learning experiences for her, both about the city’s landscape and about the commonalities of its people.
“People are raising their families, they’re taking care of their yard, they’re taking kids to school, there’s a church on the corner,” she said. “It’s just so normal. … They smile, they wave, they chat, and I just wouldn’t have ever known Little Rock [had she not seen it from the pavement]. There’s just something real different about being on your feet on every single block and watching the neighborhood characteristics change. … To me, it was just endlessly fascinating to see the houses, the architecture, how people decorate, how they landscape.”
Some of her friends and family, according to Dockery, were worried about her taking on the project. “Many of my friends were very, very concerned for my personal safety, and [thought] that I was not showing good judgment, having my mind set on walking every street,” she said. “I did not find that to be the case.”
Sometimes, people would ask her if she needed a ride or if she was having car trouble, Dockery said. She carries pepper spray with her on her walks, but she said this is mainly to ward off stray or aggressive dogs, and she’s never used it. She takes her walks in the mornings, and she said she’s been surprised by how little she was noticed by each neighborhood’s residents.
“I started feeling pretty conspicuous, but then I realized, people don’t give a rip,” she said. “They’re just going about their business; it doesn’t matter. It didn’t seem to matter where I was. People just kept washing their car, or watering their lawn, or mowing. … It struck me how normal it seemed to people, for someone who was not from that neighborhood, to just be strolling about.”
Dockery said that this sense of this normalcy struck her as a privilege.
“I did wonder if an African-American male would wander as freely in the Heights, for example,” she said. “Would he draw as little attention [there] as I was drawing in some of the neighborhoods I was in? It made me sad to think, ‘Probably not.’ ”
In addition to learning about Little Rock and its residents, Dockery said her walks have been a way to meditate and pray.
“You know, when you decide you want to do something, it’s just so hard to not do it,” she said. “Part of it is my faith. I truly believe that if something is going to happen to me, God will be there with me through it, and I will be fine. … And I just don’t fear. That’s been it as much as anything. And I pray while I walk, that is just a big part of it for me. I’m always thinking about my own personal prayer life, but [what] it brought to mind for me is the power of intercessory prayer.”
This intercessory prayer — praying for people without knowing their specific needs — has become a large part of her journey through the city. “There’s just needs that you are sensitive to because you’re seeing them,” she said. But otherwise, “we all need God’s grace,” she added. “While I might not know the needs of the people who live on this street, I know He does, so I ask Him to bless them and be there for them through whatever they’re going through.”
Her massive undertaking complete, Dockery said she doesn’t know where her feet will take her next. She’ll continue to walk with friends and with the Trail Siblings, but “the best adventures I’ve had are the ones that just show up,” she said. “I didn’t sit around and think about it, it just hit me that day that I had already done all of this, and I got a map, and it was just those out-of-the-blue things that, to me, are much more fun. … So I don’t know what the next adventure will be, but I will keep walking. It’s good for my health, it’s good for my spirit, and it’s good for my brain.”