By Chris Frost
Members of the public hold a candle in the memory of George Floyd. (Photo by Chris Frost)
Oxnard-- As the world sits reeling from the murder of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis, Oxnard took a step forward to heal the pain and step out from under the cloud of hate with the Freedom and Justice for all Candlelight Vigil and Remembrance at Plaza Park, June 14.
Attendees sang, prayed, and left inspired to make the world a better place. Many people noted the different feeling in the air as all races and creeds stood in unison, ready to make a difference and make a difference.
Community Advocacy Coalition Chairman Byron Ward said the vigil took a lot of work. He attributed much of the success to Dr. Angela Timmons for coordinating the evening.
He acknowledged the anger and frustration people might feel over the killing, and he pointed out that the American process is already defined.
"From the emotion, grief, and frustration that comes out of a murder such as that, those are natural human reactions," he said. "There is something different this time. You look at the faces in the crowd, and it is much more diverse. We know there were agitators in there perpetrating some of the violence and looting. What we have to do is take that emotion and change it into voting and changing laws, and the most important thing is creating a dialogue about race. That is one of the most difficult times in my lifetime. Something happens, there are disruptions, and people get upset."
He dialed back to the civil rights movement and pointed out those problems have reappeared.
"We can take that same energy and create change within the system," he said. "We can do that through voting, changing laws, and through dialogue. We need to educate people. There are always going to be a certain number of people who are going to be who they're going to be, but I have faith there is a common ground in this country. People can come together and go beyond this, going forward."
Nidia Bello from CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) said her group wanted to come together after Former Minneapolis Police Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. They wanted to follow the lead of the black-led organizations in Oxnard.
"We followed the lead of the Community Advocacy Coalition," she said. "They're the ones who created the program for this vigil. It's important because there have been a lot of protests and rallies happening. I think we need some community healing, and that is the purpose of this event. We need to grieve together as a community and then move forward with advocacy."
She doesn't think the saying should be changed to no peace without change, instead of justice.
"It's difficult to tell people how to express themselves when they are going through a lot of anger and grief when someone in the community dies," she said. "We're not going to continue to stand still when people are killed due to police brutality. Until these people are stopped, there is no justice."
Moving forward doesn't end with giant protests, she said, both peaceful and destructive.
"We have to continue talking with our elected officials and those who represent us, so there can be policy changes," she said. "At the end of the day, that's what's going to change the way that police interact with us."
Greater Oxnard Organization of Democrats (GOOD) President Steven Auclair said the vigil is unique from others held in Ventura County. The club brought lights attendees can hold, along with water.
"We're bringing in a lot of diverse community partners, from CAUSE to African American Churches to political organizations," he said. "We're coming around to the idea that we need to value black lives, but also, it's a unique bonding among the community with a little bit of healing, while we focus on the work ahead."
Auclair said the event would have a different feel as plenty of faith-based speakers will lend their voices.
"It's going to be family-friendly and a vigil," he said. "We felt that we needed to have an event focused on that."
The GOOD Club handed out information about how people can take action today to promote healing in the community.
"Our organization can guide people on how to take action right now through November," he said. "At a lot of these protests and vigils, people are upset because they want to take action, but they don't know how."
Auclair said one first step is for people to educate themselves.
"Follow the organizations who have been doing this work for a long time, like the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and others," he said. "Also, follow some of the new movements, like the Black Lives Matter organization and others, to understand what's going on in the community. What's unique about these movements is that a lot of the policies go on at the local level."
Dr. Angela Timmons from the Community Advocacy Coalition said anyone could turn on their television and see what happened to Mr. George Floyd, and that has set off an awareness about racism.
"Everybody has been enlightened about the plight of what many African Americans have to deal with on a day-to-day basis," she said. "Now we are woke, and we have to stay woke."
Now that everyone is awake, she said there is a movement building to right some wrongs.
"At least we can be aware of what we can do to eradicate this thing we call racism," she said.
Whether you like change or justice, both roads lead to the same place and recognize the injustices and inequities in society, and people must make constructive changes.
"How do we make the change," she asked. "That's a big word, and what do we do to change. First, we have to recognize where we are in terms of our own biases. It starts with us."
That means doing some introspection.
"Following that, we have to say no to certain things. No to offensive jokes and people who call themselves out of their name and dehumanize them; we must say no and stop."
From there, Timmons said people should join groups like the Community Action Coalition and support them.
"Be philanthropic," she said. "If you can't participate physically with your talent, donate money, $5, $10, $20, or $100,000. These events take some money to put together."
Putting out decades of anger that have been festering for a long time, she said, is a tall order, and it starts with sharing your experiences and learning from them.
"We all have stories," she said. "In spite of the stories that we can put a negative spin on them, we move forward and come together in love and understanding so we can do the business at hand and sing in one chorus."
This reporter got chased home one day by a large group of African-American kids as a young boy and got punched because he was white and was also told to stand and fight by the local police during a ride home.
"We're talking about justice for all," Timmons said. "We don't condone looting and burning. We condone peaceful protests."
Lena Stephenson said she came to the park to stand up for Mr. George Floyd and others who died because of unjustified police brutality.
"It's wrong and needs to come to an end," she said. "It makes me sad and angry. It made me think that this one was recorded, and people are watching, but there are probably others that haven't been recorded. How many of those haven't been reported?"
She's been vocal and plans to make a difference.
"I've been talking to my friends and said it hurts me to see people being put down and oppressed," she said. "I've been talking to my friends about how, when we grow up and have our own kids, we need to raise them to respect everyone. Everyone is different, and we need to respect everyone."
Elijah Davis said he's grown numb from the Floyd incident and said he's used to seeing things like this happen over-and-over.
"When I realized that it wasn't dying down, that's when it made me kind of sad, or even scared," he said. "I'm not worried about me, per se, but I am worried about the future and how it is going to affect people of color, like me, and how it's going to affect the views of all of us. The people in power, the majority of them are white, how is this going to affect their view of us?"
Looking forward, Elijah, who is 16, doesn't feel like he needs protection, but he does need more awareness of the people around him, so he knows how to act.
"I want to make sure that I don't do anything that gets me involved in an altercation with the police," he said. "I also need to be more open-minded about people who are white or not African-American, that they are against something," he said. "I can hear all sides of the story and opinions, and not be closed-minded like most people are during this unrest."
He gets worried about racist people lashing out but feels safe in his community, which has so many accepted people.
"If I am completely aware and stay by people who are accepting, that’s my shield," he said.
Minister Ola Washington-Holmes opened in song and sang that she isn't going to let her friends turn her around to the enthusiastic crowd.
"We're marching, we're singing, we're praying, and we won't stop," she said. "We're going to keep on marching, hold the ground we got and keep going forward."
They may have lost George Floyd, but she reminded people they've lost many others.
"We have to pray our way through it, and come together in unity," Washington-Holmes said. "I am so happy to see black and white people together. This is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's dream. I look at the television daily and see so many white, black, brown, Jews, and Gentiles coming together. Justice is not a question of black or white. Justice is a question of right or wrong. Racism is evil; racism is evil; racism is evil!"
This story will continue on June 26.