By Pat Patterson and Admir Skodo
On June 6, 200 residents from my Maxwell Park neighborhood in Oakland, California came together for a solidarity protest in remembrance of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis who was brutally murdered by a policeman on March 25. Like the countless protests across the globe triggered by Floyd’s death, ours too was a stand against the continued violence and inequality in minority communities. The key organizer behind the protest was Susan McGrath, neighbor and educator. I'm proud to have lived in the neighborhood for 40+ years and am neighborhood watch block chair for my street.
Many neighbors at the event indicated they had been looking for a way to act against injustices rooted in centuries of racism and inequality. Paula Lewis, a long-time Allendale resident and board member, was moved to tears by the 8 minutes and 46 seconds “take a knee” segment of the protest. She was reminded of how lucky she was to be brought up in a diverse community in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she didn’t have some of the fears that others had growing up in more segregated areas.
Said Lewis in her speech to the protesters: “I was also fortunate to hear Rev. Martin Luther King speak at the Boston Gardens, where a small group of about 30 people listened to him. If our similar community in Maxwell Park could bring out so many more folks, I feel hopeful that perhaps because of the murder of George Floyd, hearts can change this time.” Other neighbor’s suggestions included committing to one action to make a difference, such as volunteering for voter registration, having another solidarity protest, possibly renaming the park to George Floyd Park and forming special interest groups with actionable tasks.
Neighbor JoAnn Yoshioka voiced a deep desire to see Maxwell Park act collectively for justice: “Individually we must deal with the pain of what has unfolded but, collectively we can help each other heal, understand and take action on injustices. It was comforting to gather with neighbors at the Solidarity protest and know that we stand together. Maxwell Park is truly unique and the respect and love for everyone is genuine.” Susan Audap, another neighbor, expressed a similar desire: “We believe the success of this Black Lives Matter movement resides in action everywhere, in neighborhoods and small communities, as well as on the big city streets. The change that’s needed is deeply personal and this event, among friends and neighbors, let us show our commitment to the cause.”
Overall, McGrath felt very positive about the event and grateful for the large turnout on such short notice. “It showed a genuine concern of many Maxwell Park neighbors to combat, dismantle and put an end to systemic racism. It was profound to grieve together as a community and to then start talking about actions that we can take to continue this work. Lastly, it was beautiful when neighbor and DJ Maxwell’s curated music brought us all together to dance in the park. This movement needs that sort of levity and celebration to refill our buckets so that we can continue the work. Next steps include involving interested neighbors, working on a solidarity statement and considering future gatherings.” Events to be posted on Next Door.
What other Maxwell Park neighbors said about the event:
“Saturday's gathering at Maxwell Park was a great display of our community coming together in solidarity, and sharing some joy amidst the pain”.
• “Our family joined the protest because we feel it is important to visibly show up for our community - there is strength in numbers. We also wanted to teach our young daughter how to exercise her First Amendment rights and show her that our neighbors think this is important, too.”
• “We came partly because we’re unable to get to bigger events due to health issues”
• “The event was so warm and sincere, it brought tears to my eyes. Folks kneeling on one knee was heartfelt. There is hope for change”.
- “We'd like to see more regular BLM assemblies in Maxwell Park, and perhaps a larger pan-neighborhood protest in Brookdale Park. Perhaps an Allendale community art project to paint Black Lives Matter, or another social justice message, on our street could be a way to keep bringing public focus and action to the cause.”