The multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-cultural United in Peace Foundation held its 10th Peace Ride on July 28 in honor of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
Hundreds of motorcyclists and low riders, dressed in orange, grey and classic black leather, also dedicated their first multi-city ride to the thousands of mothers and fathers whose children have been gunned down in senseless violence throughout America.
People across the country have spoken out about Martin’s death and the July 13 acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman. The verdict reignited the national debate on gun violence and race relations. And here, a grassroots coalition and movement have taken a unique and unusual approach to these issues.
“Every other day we have a Trayvon Martin in the Black community and we don’t get press. That Black or that Brown mother, who lost her child to someone that looked like them, no one is embracing them but today, we’re going to embrace them,” declared Student Minister Tony Muhammad, Western Region representative for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
Min. Tony is founder of the UPFest Peace Rides and Reverend Alfreddie Johnson, founder of the World Literacy Crusade, is a co-founder. They, along with Dr. Hanan Islam of the American Health and Education Clinics, POWER 106 FM’s Big Boy, also a sponsor, along with Pastor Claude Powe, head of the Called to Destiny Ministry, members of various motorcycle clubs of Southern California, including the Street Heat Ridaz and the National Low Riders Association, led the Peace Ride.
Pastor Powe also heads a network of motorcycle clubs from Central to Southern California. “I think this is just the beginning of a mass movement. We’ve only scratched the surface,” said Pastor Powe.
Taking note of the multi faith effort Powe added, “The word of God says blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons or daughters or children of God. It didn’t say blessed are the Muslims that make peace. It didn’t say blessed are the Christians that make peace. It didn’t say blessed are the Jehovahs Witnesses that make peace. It didn’t say the 7th Day Adventists. It didn’t say none of that. It said blessed are the peacemakers … ,”
The peacemakers waved UPFest flags, and, but for the roaring of their engines, communicated silently by pumping the Black power fist and peace sign with the scores of people who had run out of their homes and businesses, and lined the streets to videotape the procession.
They took pictures and many just waved in awe. One young man rode his bike as fast as he could pedal, keeping his eyes on the road while determined to videotape the motorbikes with his cell phone. The smiles on faces from young to old were priceless.
“L.A. is ready for peace! That’s right. Thank ya’ll,” an elderly woman yelled at the caravan when they turned the corner at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall on King Blvd. Mothers and children watched from behind thick black security gates and families waved from high on balconies.
The approximate five-mile procession paraded from Magic Johnson Park in Compton, through Inglewood, the Crenshaw District and South L.A. before rejoining thousands at the park for a free festival and concert. Festival participants were reciting the Million Man March Pledge as the caravan rolled into the park.
In a poignant moment during the program, activist Vicky Lindsey of Project Cry No More and the Southern California Cease Fire Committee, asked everyone who had a child who was killed by gang or gun violence to gather in front of the stage. Within less than five minutes, the area could hold no more. While they gathered and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” played from loud speakers, a video slideshow depicted photos of many loved ones gone but not forgotten.
“This is not a good feeling you guys…We love Trayvon but we’re hurting ourselves. We’ve got our own problems right here,” Lindsey said.
“Get involved by choice and not by force because this happens from the top of the hill to the bottom of the hood and it ain’t all good when you feel this. But guess what, it don’t stop me from fighting because I believe! I believe that the violence can stop,” Lindsey said.
Min. Tony asked everyone at the park to stretch their hands out toward the families. They bowed their heads as he led a prayer for them. And with everyone holding the 1995 Million Man March Pledge for greater personal and societal responsibility and The Way to Happiness, the non-religious, common-sense guide to better living, he had them turn to the east and repeat after him.
“United! In Peace,” Min. Tony began the call and response. They continued, “Chicago! We feel your pain! New York! We feel your pain! So let us be united in peace!” In the end, Min. Tony and his echoers had called out to Oakland, San Diego, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Compton and Long Beach. Many tears of pain quickly transformed into smiles and expressions of hope.
Congresswoman Janice Hahn, Compton Mayor Aja Brown, Carson Councilman Mike Gipson, and a field deputy for L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson and Sheriff Leroy Baca presented UPFest with proclamations for their efforts towards peace. Congresswoman Karen Bass’s representative presented certificates of appreciation to all riders.
“As much as I’m outraged over Trayvon Martin, I think what this ride does today and what this rally does today is say that we ought to be outraged if any of our young people are killed. Any murder is wrong,” Congresswoman Hahn said, before she thanked Min. Tony for standing up for peace with an official proclamation.
“This is not my thing. This is a ‘we’ thing. UPFest don’t belong to nobody but it belongs to everybody so don’t get it twisted,” Min. Tony told gatherers.
“This is such an awesome, awesome event and we are proud to say that we are in the city of Compton and that we have united together today peaceably. And I was shocked that it was so many people out here,” Mayor Brown said of her second attendance.
“We are working together to keep our neighborhoods safer. We have come a long way than where we were years ago but when there’s just one person that dies in the city of Compton it’s a national emergency to me,” she added.
In turn, Min. Tony and Rev. Alfreddie presented various city and law enforcement leaders with UPFest awards for supporting the community’s call for peace.
In another jaw-dropping moment, a local businessman donated $25,000 to the UPFest Foundation and pledged another $10,000 before he left the stage.
The festival had something for everyone, especially children and youth. They enjoyed train rides through the park, bouncers, a game truck, free food, and face painting. Non-profit, community-based organizations were even offered free information booths.
Performers who rocked the audience included rappers and artists Kam and Young Bruh, Medusa, Project Blowed, OverDoz, and AKNU. Grammy award-winning jazz legend Stanley Clark closed out the electrifying concert.
“We started out with so few people and now it’s gotten large and I’m just so happy. My goal is for it to go national. I’m from Philadelphia and I want to see it go to Philadelphia. I want to see everybody ride through the city of Philadelphia under the guise of peace,” Clark said.
Since October 2012, Dr. Islam’s and Rev. Johhson’s American Health and Education Clinics have sponsored the Peace Rides, as well as POWER 106 FM’s Big Boy, a media sponsor. Big Boy has ridden in several rides, including this latest.
“Recently, Stevie Wonder and KJLH has come on to be a partner in this monthly activity, which we hope to be able to carry to every city and duplicate what we’re doing here,” Rev. Johnson said.
He added, “This is a concept of edutainment, which deals with enlightenment, empowerment, inspiration, as well as education and so we want to resurrect them in our communities by putting their attention on peace rather than on stopping crime and stopping violence because we believe whatever you put your attention on, you get.”
“There were so many people from different neighborhoods, walks of life, car clubs, bike clubs, all these different aspects in one place at one time but everyone was so friendly,” said Shannice Johnson.
“People were just speaking and talking and it was so welcoming. At first I was kind of intimidated because it was so many people, but honestly it felt like I was at a big family reunion,” she added.