Anti-gun violence marchers. Photos by Stephanie Rivera.
About 50 local leaders, clergy and community members calling for an end to gun violence met at Drake Park Wednesday night for a now-annual vigil and march, starting at the same gathering point as last year, with a slightly different route—one with stops that remembered the dozens of lives lost to violence in Long Beach this year.
This year, participants halted at the intersections of 9th Street and Magnolia Avenue, 9th Street and Locust Avenue and 5th Street and Pine Avenue before ending with a vigil at Harvey Milk Promenade Park. They left poinsettias and called out the names of those who died nearby.
While they marched, they sang Christmas carols while holding signs, and at times, were supported by honks by vehicles passing by, or hurried by impatient motorists inching toward them, not willing to let the large group cross safely together.
On the northeast corner of 9th and Magnolia, the Rev. Ricardo Avila of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Long Beach led a prayer to recognize an area known for multiple shootings but also a place where some residents are known to have a great amount of faith, he said, as evidenced by a shrine for the Virgin of Guadalupe on the porch of a corner house.
“In this house there are people of faith who live here and it's a bit of a beacon to the neighborhood; and in this neighborhood a lot of folks have died, especially young Latinos, and so we stop here to give thanks for the faith of this community in this neighborhood and ask for a blessing upon it,” Avila said.
Caption: A shrine for the Virgin of Guadalupe sits on the porch of a Long Beach house. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.
One of those residents who sees the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe as a beacon was Maria, who declined to give her last name. She participated in the march and vigil because of the recent killing of a young man near Drake Park and because she is devoted to the Virgin, she said.
“I go there to pray and ask that all of this [violence] ends,” Maria said. “Hopefully, she [Virgin of Guadalupe] helps us and that there is more vigilance.”
The next stop was made at 9th and Locust where a young mother and her 4-year-old daughter were gunned down in August.
The final stop was made at 5th Street and Pine Avenue, where more names were called out and more flowers were left in remembrance.
Finally, the group gathered at Harvey Milk Promenade Park where community leaders led prayers and songs, called the names of the victims once more and asked for everyone to love one another.
“This is the four-year anniversary of Sandy Hook, that's the reason we gathered, but we’re also here to remember that Long Beach is a beautiful city and when we come together we can imagine a world without gun violence,” said the Rev. Elena Larssen of First Congregational Church.
Avila said this year organizers created the event with a more spiritual and religious theme in mind, something closer to home for many of the groups, which included Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Temple Israel, Long Beach Ministers Alliance, Masjid Al-Shareef and the local Organizing For Action chapter, among others.
“Some of us gathered here today would never have spent time with one another under different circumstances,” Avila said. “Thats a shame. So let this night be a reminder to you what you may not always think about, we belong to each other, we are all in this together, and absolutely nothing will change until we all come to believe this.”