On Friday evening, 13 Richmond residents gathered at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in North Richmond to spread the word about life without bullets. Armed with purple fliers, they exited the small church with a gentle gait and marched two-by-two towards the Las Deltas Housing Project, one of the city’s hot spots for gun violence.
The purpose of the walk, also known as Richmond Ceasefire/Lifelines to Healing, was to meet people hanging out on their stoops and talk about the need to stop gun violence. Many times conversations were ended with an open-air hug and prayer. Organized by Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), community residents meet every Friday evening in a different part of the city and do a similar walk through the community.
Pastor Joan Thompson of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church said her church has participated in the event eight times and will continue to do so because the march enhances love and concern for the community. “Hopefully it will let the neighborhood see that we are concerned, and that we’re not just sitting behind the pulpit and just talking about it,” she said. “We’re actually out in the streets showing them that we do care and we are concerned for them. Who knows, it may change somebody’s heart—it may change their outlook.”
Residents hanging out on the corner of Silver Avenue and North Jade Street didn’t run and hide once they saw the slow-moving group head their way. One teenage girl approached the group in the middle of the street and asked for hug. Another group of women hanging out in and around a SUV formed a small circle with Pastor Thompson and prayed.
It’s no walk in the park to meander through some of Richmond’s neighborhoods at sunset. But Tamisha Walker has been doing it with the group since October and said with every walk she feels less leery. “The fear has subsided,” she said. “I just realized there’s a lot of hurt people who just want people to show that they care.”
Dewanda Joseph has been marching for nearly one year, too. What she’s learned over that time is that the community is in need of more community. “I envision one day I’ll come out here to do this and everybody in the neighborhood will be out here with me,” she said.
North Richmond resident Alfonzo Rodgers who was part of the procession said back in the day when a stranger came through the neighborhood, people would run inside and turn off the lights. “This was my first time marching and I was looking for people to just go under,” he said. “A couple of times on Second Street and then on North Jade Street they waited for us. That made an impact on me, just seeing what we can teach them.”
For Jonathan Perez, 18, picturing life without street violence didn’t seem real. Before participating in these peace marches he used to raise havoc in the streets, he said; things got so bad for him that he was sent to jail twice. It wasn’t until he understood how his exploits broke his mother’s heart, and then seeing his older brother sent to jail on attempted murder charges, that he decided to invest in himself and change, he said. Now a member of CCISCO’s Safe Return Project, Perez works on Richmond’s immigration and gun violence issues.
Perez said when he meets older people on the street he tells them to try and not shun youngsters. “Take them in,” he said. “Spread the word that people are out here and that we do care. It’s not worth killing each other.”
For more information on how to get involved, contact Rev. Eugene Jackson and CCISCO at (510) 593-8994