Remember Them, Champions for Humanity

on January 1, 2019

“Remember Them, Champions for Humanity” is a monument in downtown Oakland. It honors 25 people who in one way or another fought for peace, freedom and human rights. Tall buildings and business suits are what you see from one side of it. Tent towns are what you see coming from the other, the side facing San Pablo Avenue.

“What does it make you feel?” I ask a woman who is passing by.

“Inspired and motivated,” she replies.

We are sitting amongst four big blocks of bronze statues in the middle of the square at Henry J.Kaiser Memorial Park. The sun is shining, adding a slight sense of magnitude to everything, from the leaves on the trees to the bronze monuments. At 31 feet high and 52 feet long, they make you feel small.

The woman is older than she looks and thin, dressed in different tones of yellow and a pair of jeans. A woolen sweater, a hat and yellow shoelaces, almost as if she is going on a hike. I leave her while she’s looking attentively at one of Nelson Mandela’s quotes with a slight melancholy in her eyes that makes me ponder.

I place myself under a tree; the sun is too high for my frail ginger skin and I have spent quite some time reading the memorials. “All men are alike, give them a chance to live and grow”—Chief Joseph’s head has that written under it, and I’m thinking how far away we are from this principle of equality.

That’s when I see them approach, a couple who are in their twenties and homeless. They eventually situate themselves under one of the bronze monuments. “I wonder if this is illegal,” the young woman says while placing her stuff underneath one of the sculptures. A backpack, a pillow, a pair of shoes.

“History is there for us to take a moment, sit back and reflect on it,” the man says, sitting under Oskar Schindler’s sculpture and smoking a joint.

The woman is wearing a white shirt that appears fluorescent under the sun; the man carries a guitar and wears a fluffy headband that looks like cat’s ears. They are clearly in love.

I sit in wonder of how sick our current society might appear—a society that drives its youth to homeless. A segregated nation. I wonder what all these marvellous statued women and men would think of us, our current society.

I leave the park. The sun is still shining. I hear birds and cars horns. I feel a weight. It’s not mine, but I feel it. On a Monday morning in Oakland, I am finally aware of our collective responsibility.

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