The subtitle of , “From Chaos to Community,” proved a fitting theme as hundreds of residents of El Cerrito and surrounding communities gathered in the gym of Monday to talk of nonviolence and love.
Celebrated on a campus that has experienced shock and tears over the off-campus a week earlier, the moving celebration carried special meaning as speaker after speaker talked of the power of a united community to overcome violence. At the same time, the speeches were laced with reminders of the violence around us — the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant by a BART police officer and the Jan. 8 shooting spree in Arizona targeting U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — and challenges such as AIDS and homelessness.
Monday’s event began as marchers gathered before 9 a.m. in the D.M.V. parking lot, unfurling banners and unloading horses and band instruments. The high school’s marching band and the Bay Area Line Dancers provided early entertainment, as some of the groups joining the march were introduced, including organizations from the high school such as the Black Student Union, Asian Student Union and the Gay Straight Alliance.
The sun broke through the morning fog as the marchers headed onto Kearney Street, led by the band and escorted by police officers who kept traffic at bay to make way for the parade. A variety of community organizations were represented, such as the El Cerrito Democratic Club and the Japanese American Citizens League. Many others marched with family, friends, classmates and church members. All five City Council members marched in the parade, as did West Contra Costa school board member Madeline Kronenberg.
Three other school board members, Antonio Medrano, Charles Ramsey, and Tony Thurmond, and superintendent Bruce Harter were at the rally, part of a crowd of several hundred people who filled the gym for a program emceed by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner.
“Every day we must take in the message of Dr. King, especially in times like now when violence is all around us,” said Skinner.
Rev Henry C. Washington, executive director of Operation Richmond, said King’s message must be “not on our lips but in our hearts. ” Skinner introduced Washington as a leader in the effort to eliminate violence in the East Bay.
“I’m sure some of you are aware of the violence that has hit our community recently,” said Jason Reimann, principal of El Cerrito High. “I work with young people every day. I see its (violence’s) impact every day. But I also see the impact of the work of the community. As a community there is nothing we cannot achieve.”
Mayor Ann Cheng urged the crowd, “Be the future. You can’t wait for other people to do it.”
Skinner presented an award to county Supervisor John Gioia for his ongoing support for the event. Gioia said it is organizer Patricia Durham “who reminds us of how important it is to come together as a community.”
Gioia said the community has serious issues to discuss, adding, “We cannot demonize people who disagree with us.”
Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, thanked community members for embracing his family in the wake of his nephew’s killing New Year’s Day 2009, and demanding justice. “Thank you Dr. King for your dream. Thank you to the community for embracing that dream.”
Minister Keith Muhammad, who joined Johnson at the podium, said, “We must make it our personal business, when there is injustice, as Dr. King did, to involve ourselves.”
Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Darrell Wesley noted that the parade’s theme comes from Dr. King’s book, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community.
“We are in the midst of chaos,” Wesley repeated several times, citing such examples as Grant’s shooting, the shooting that killed six and injured Giffords and 13 others, and the impact of AIDS on the black community.
“We can move from chaos to community,” he said. “King’s answer can be summed up in one word: love.” He added, “You have to love yourself first or else your neighbor is in a whole lot of trouble.”
Interwoven with the speeches were presentations by students and performances, including those of praise dancers Divine Elevation and the Bay Area Line Dancers.
“We’ve definitely seen chaos in the past week,” principal Reimann said afterward. “Today we saw the community come together.”