Every day, Everett Rosenbauer heads to Fountain Park to go on a 10-mile hike. While one focus of these long walks is to stay in shape and strengthen a leg injury, he also takes this opportunity to spread a collection of messages near and dear to his heart.
Fountain Hills residents who cruise through downtown before the temperatures rise to high each morning have likely seen Rosenbauer, strolling down the sidewalk with a sign in hand. His latest proclaims, “Darkest B4 Dawn. Be light, shine bright. I’m your prism.” He has carried several other signs, though; all intended to encourage open discussion.
A Fountain Hills resident, Rosenbauer and his family moved to the area when he was 14.
“I was here for the end of eighth grade and went to Fountain Hills High School as part of the class of 2002,” Rosenbauer said. “I moved away for a little bit when I was younger and then came back after I was injured.”
Rosenbauer said that, since he’s been back in town, he’s started to take pride in Fountain Hills being his community.
In June, a Black Lives Matter march was organized by local students to take place in Fountain Park and was subsequently cancelled due to threats of violence. Rosenbauer said that served as a nudge for his own daily walks.
“I came down to the Fountain that evening and was shocked,” Rosenbauer said. “…I couldn’t believe what happened to these kids. They had a great idea, they went through the proper channels, they asked for permission and everything. Yet they were intimidated and didn’t feel they could hold the peaceful protest they had planned.”
Rosenbauer said he got up the next morning and went out with his first sign, a tradition he’s kept going ever since.
His first sign read, “Our system is broken. Rethink policing and public services.”
Rosenbauer admits this was his most controversial sign to date, but the intent was misunderstood by some. The response was frequently negative, though some were happy to engage him in discussion about the topic.
Rosenbauer’s second sign read, “Everyone, every day, our responsibility. Be the change, make a difference.” The next read, “I have a voice, you have a voice. I’ll listen. Let’s talk.”
No matter the message, Rosenbauer said his goal is to encourage his neighbors to talk to him and consider positive ways to impact the world around them.
“I always try to put myself in somebody else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes before I rush to judgment,” Rosenbauer said. “…I really didn’t have a plan for the signs at first…That first week was really tough, but that just inspired me to keep going.”
Rosenbauer said that, over time, people started to engage with him. Those who would cross the road to avoid passing him began to speak to him instead.
“They’d start with ‘oh, hi,’ or ‘good morning’ and then, before you know it, I’m stopping to have conversations with them. Once we talk, they seem to like what I’m trying to do, which is just engage in dialogue.
“I feel like everyone typically likes to run to their predetermined positions. I’ll listen to you; I’m here to listen. The more I listen and learn about your path, that helps shape me, makes me better informed and gives me more knowledge of my fellow citizens.”
To those who have met Rosenbauer with resistance, he still encourages them to stop and talk.
“I guarantee you, if you give me 15 minutes to listen to you, when I talk back to you you’ll discover we have a lot more in common than what divides us,” he continued. “Whatever your preconceived notions of me are, just give me a chance to listen, let’s have dialogue and I think you’ll be shocked to discover I care just as much as you.”
Rosenbauer said he’s thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the members of his community better through his long walks.
“I want to build up everybody around me before I try to build myself up,” he said. “It’s like a wave in the ocean; we’ll all rise together.”
Once the weather shifts and pandemic measures are less restrictive, Rosenbauer said he’d like to organize a local forum for his fellow community members to meet and talk about various topics.
When asked the one thing Rosenbauer hopes the community takes away from his morning walks, he said, “just to be kind.”
“It’s that old saying, treat others the way you want to be treated,” he said. “The more we listen, the better we are going to be as a community. People will feel their voice is being heard, so then they’re going to become more engaged in the community themselves, and we’re all going to benefit because of it.”