A multiracial, mostly older, crowd of about 150 people gathered at the Mosswood Park Amphitheater on Saturday, August 24, to attend a rally organized by the Bay Area Black Worker Center. Contemporary and local civil rights activists would speak on topics from the renewed assault on voting rights to the continued slaughter of young black men, both by police and members of the community.
Upon arrival, serenaded by a medley of classic 60s music, such as “We Got to Live Together,” participants were asked to sign a card pledging “the support the development of the Bay Area Black Worker Center, which seeks to promote economic and racial justice, peace and prosperity of the Bay Area.”
The program opened with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black National Anthem, as sung by Greg Garrett. Although invited to join in the singing, it was evident that few people knew the tune (the lyrics were provided on the back of the program).
Master of Ceremonies Ray Horne began with the words, “We are not here to commemorate but to continue … to infuse with new power, not to look back with nostalgia but to look forward with hope … Let us create some sparks.”
“History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is also a compass that people use to find themselves on the map of human geography.” K. R. Woods of the Covenant Worship Center, the first speaker, spoke of “the nexus between faith and our fight.”
Midway through the program, the impressive and energetic drumming dance fitness band, Samba Funk Carnival Explosion, lived up to their name with their explosive rhythm and beats, bringing the crowd to their feet for nearly fifteen minutes of foot-stomping, hip-shaking and arm-waving wild dancing.
Pastor Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, who died at the hands of BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle on New Year’s Eve in 2009, encouraged the crowd to “Continue to march, continue to fight! … When my son was murdered, I wanted to give up, but there was something inside me that come from my son that said, ‘Fight for me,’ that said not to give up. We can move mountains together. We must give ourselves to the struggle.”
Rally participants expressed concern that not enough had changed in half a century. Dennis Roos, who took part in the planning, was just two years old when the original march took place, and believes he would have attended in 1963 if he had been old enough. “Racism exists,” he said. “If Martin Luther King were here today, he would be disappointed in the progress made so far. He would reiterate the need for education and that low wage work is part of the dysfunction.”
Skyline High School English teacher Rodney Brown, 37, attended this rally, “as a teacher, to be close to the activism.” Brown thought “that one big misconception held by many people today is that a lot has changed, that there is this sense of complacency, and even though we’re in this social media age, there’s this unawareness of what’s really going on.”
Brown summed up the goals and need for the rally, when he opined, “The struggle will never end. The school-to-prison pipeline, lack of access for people of color: these abuses by authority continue.”