Forrest Gump just felt like running. Jonathon Prince just felt like running for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Prince, 25, of Las Vegas, who works in television production in Los Angeles, decided to take initiative after watching Katrina’s destruction of the Gulf Coast from afar.
In September, Prince organized Run 4 Relief to assist hurricane relief efforts, with a minimum goal of $10,000. He set out Oct. 6 on a Gump-like trek from Los Angeles to Atlanta.
“People call me ‘Black Forrest Gump,'” he said.
Prince arrived in Baton Rouge Sunday after three-and-a-half months of running nearly a marathon a day. He has raised $7,000 toward his goal.
“I’m a runner in my lifestyle,” he said. “I wanted to do my part. I knew I could raise more than I could donate. I wanted to show that anybody can make a difference.”
Prince said he felt the effects of Katrina first hand because his ex-girlfriend lived in New Orleans’ heavily damaged Ninth Ward. He said the family fled safely but lost everything.
Prince travels lightly, storing necessities in a baby jogging stroller. Sometimes he receives charity from restaurants and hotels at his stops. If there is no such charity, he pays to eat and rest.
Prince lacks the notoriety of some of the celebrities who visited the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Katrina. This anonymity has hindered Prince twice on his journey. In El Paso, Texas, he was mistaken for an illegal immigrant and stopped by Border Patrol.
“They thought I was an illegal immigrant pushing my jogger across the border,” he said. “It was kind of embarrassing, but at the same time, the El Paso mayor contacted me to apologize.”
During an interview with the San Antonio Express, Prince learned of an evacuee shelter in the city called KellyUSA.
“Immediately I was stoked and wanted to go meet with people,” Prince said.
Upon arriving at KellyUSA, however, he was denied entrance by FEMA officials who did not believe his intentions. By the time FEMA confirmed the identification he provided them, Prince was ordering French toast at a downtown Denny’s.
“I was disappointed,” he said, “because, honestly, even aside from all the media, I just wanted to get a first-hand response from some of the victims. It was sad that I couldn’t get that, even though I knew they were there.”
Prince’s running has allowed him to see things in a new light.
“I have so much clarity now, spiritually and mentally,” he said. “I’m a lot more in tune with life’s purpose. It’s not only raising money for hurricane victims now. It’s also to inspire them. In Louisiana, there’s more need for inspiration than monetary support. People are suffering from emotional and mental scars.”
Like Gump, Prince has influenced many people throughout the nation. He has four major sponsors: Sprint, Drinkables liquid supplements, Straight Arrow Products and Energizer. People have pledged to run with him when he nears their area. The effort has been assisted by CNN interviews and press coverage in many cities where Prince ran.
“He’s definitely got a good cause going on,” said film producer Wayne Douglas Morgan. “He’s not just running to run, he’s running for a purpose. Everybody’s got to find out what the purpose is. He’s a very fascinating individual and people need to follow suit.”
Prince said he hopes people do follow his lead and take action during this tough recovery period.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “You have to bounce back, you can’t let this situation be your downfall. Continue to chase your dreams. You’re only here for so long. Because you did survive, it’s opportunity to start over. Hopefully my story will inspire them to look into the future with a brighter tomorrow.”
Prince will pass through New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast before arriving in Atlanta on Feb. 18. To view Prince’s route, read his online journals or donate to Run 4 Relief, visit www.run4relief.org.