The residents who marched in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Saturday morning looked to emphasize a particular aspect of his teachings: Unity.
“We are moving in the direction of breaking down the barriers that separate us,” said Otheree Christian, president of the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Association, “barriers that contribute to unnecessary violence.”
About 200 residents participated marches that began at Nevin Community Center in central Richmond and in Parchester Village. The groups converged at Shields-Reid Park in North Richmond, where a procession of speakers including U.S. Congressman George Miller (D-Martinez) spoke about how the late civil rights leader’s teachings must inform the continued progress of all Richmond’s neighborhoods.
County Supervisor John Gioia, Richmond Mayor Gayle Mclaughlin, local NAACP branch president Ken Nelson and local clergy were among the leaders on hand. The majority of the city’s new professional basketball team, the Richmond Rockets, also joined the march through city streets.
Marching across territorial lines dividing North and Central Richmond was itself a powerful symbol, a message of unity that the event organizers, Christian, Marena Brown and Goretha Johnson, sought to deliver loud and clear.
Christian, Brown and Johnson are presidents of the neighborhood councils and watch groups in their respective neighborhoods, where tensions between rival gangs often explode into violence. The divisions mean that many residents fear even passing through rival neighborhoods. For Brown and Christian, both of whom have been increasingly visible neighborhood leaders, this was the second march to link the North and Central neighborhoods since August.
“All of you who have come out here today are leaders, you are our leaders,” Gioia said, addressing the procession during a stop on Fred Jackson Way in North Richmond. Gioia worked with community leaders last year to name the street after the longtime local activist, who died in September after a bout with cancer.
At Shields-Reid Park, speakers took to an outdoor stage while Christian, Brown and Johnson held up a “unity” banner.
“Somehow, somewhere, we have forgotten that love is the key, and love is the answer,” Nelson said. “So today we do what Dr. King did. We pound the pavement to dramatize the problem.”
Miller, who was received with overwhelming good cheer by residents and leaders in North Richmond, sounded his familiar theme of education and upward mobility for youth. He talked about his visit to area schools the day before and what he learned from speaking to children in the community. He said challenges are still unacceptably steep, but that it is this generation’s duty to capitalize on gains made by King and others.
“Martin Luther King was about getting rid of barriers,” Miller said. “Our obligation is to take advantage of the removal of those barriers.”