Video by Maren Machles. Photos (below) by Asia Morris.
Heads were bowed and prayers were said before peace walkers in North Long Beach began a two-mile trek yesterday in the name of shedding light on, and hopefully decreasing, the spike in violence in the area.
The peace walk, beginning at the corner of 53rd and Atlantic Avenue and stretching to Houghton Park, included residents of North Long Beach as well as neighboring communities who walked proudly while holding signs that called for peace, love and unity, and responded to car honks and curious passersby with hand waves and positivity.
While walking with a spray-painted sign of a peace symbol, Isela Morenas, representing the Latino Advisory Group for the Long Beach Chief of Police, said many members of her church and her family have been affected by this recent increase in violence.
"We see after a shooting, after the victims have to put their loved ones to rest," Morenas said. "This community doesn't have the money for it and we see everybody not only having to endure the pain of that but having to come together and find the resources to bury their loved ones."
When asked how a peace walk works as a response to the uptick in violent crime, Morenas went on to explain that communities banding together is key.
"I think it will bring an awareness to the community as a whole, but also to people in places of power, that something needs to be done, that the community is screaming out for peace, for justice, for protection," Morenas said. "And as a community we need to band together and fight, fight for what's right, fight for our safety, fight for our children, for everything that is good and just in this world."
Peace walkers were greeted at the northwest corner of Houghton Park with inspiring words from leaders within the City of Long Beach, including Councilmembers Al Austin and Rex Richardson, Chief of Police Jim McDonnell, and community organizer Taharka Anderson.
Jermaine Harris of Black Family United stood at the podium to represent ONE Long Beach, a new alliance of nonprofit organizations and community action organizations partnering together for better communities and schools. Among its members are Centro CHA, Black Family United, Greater Long Beach Interfaith Community Organization (ICO), Church 1, Victory Outreach, Interval House, Latino Coalition for Community Leadership, and Educated Men with Meaningful Message (EM3).
"We all come from a little disfunction, right?" Harris said. "Everybody has a little disfunction in their household. Now have you ever had so much disfunction in your life that you just took it as normal?... So what ONE Long Beach is all about is to give you guys the opportunity to fix those dysfunctions, it's giving me the opportunity to fix my dysfunctions. We all have to look inward and fix ourselves and heal ourselves and sometimes we can't do that by ourselves, but we can do it together."
Performers engaged the audience in Lamba, a traditional West African dance of celebration, before the councilmembers and LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell took the floor.
"Violent crime is never a good thing," Richardson, the newly elected councilmember representing the 9th District, said. "We have to work together as a city to address the root of these issues... The only way to make a change is to empower yourself to be the change you want to see in your community."
McDonnell's message was a call for residents to look out for each other, noting that "a crime against any one of us is a crime against all of us and I think too often we forget that peace."
Robert Luman, police commander of the North Division for almost two years, called for community governance, where the departments of the city work together with its residents to make the city a better place. It was perhaps Luman who delivered the most unconventional of message of the evening, noting that if the public feels the police have better things to do, that is exactly when they need to call on the police.
"I believe if we work from a position of love, that there's nothing we can't do," Luman said. "There's actually no such thing as hate. Hate is merely an absence of love; the two can't coexist. So I call on you today, not to eliminate hate, but to proliferate love. I thank you all for being here today and showing your support for this vibrant community in North Long Beach."
The Peace Walk and Cultural Friendship Celebration engaged community residents in a visible alliance to discuss the roots of violence and how to prevent its continuing occurrence. Residents, organizations, businesses and government met at the cultural celebration to uplift each other, offer words of advice and to simply celebrate that such a community gathering could occur to start a dialogue about much-needed change in North Long Beach.