The “March the Friendly City” event was advertised as a “Peaceful March for Justice.” It lived up to its advertising. On June 13, a few hundred folks stepped off from the parking lot at the Callinan Sports and Fitness Center at the Rohnert Park Community Center shortly after 10 a.m. Their destination was City Center Plaza in front of the Department of Public Safety where they’d gather to listen to speakers tell their stories and ask citizens to join in making their voices heard. The event finished just before noon.
The March was both a protest and a plea. Chants of Black Lives Matter; No Justice No Peace; and others, were voiced. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor had their names spoken. A wide variety of homemade signs were carried. Walking on the Rohnert Park Expressway sidewalk, Public Safety Officers blocked cross streets to ensure safety of the marchers during the 1 ½ mile walk. Many passing vehicles honked their horns in support, waved, or took phone videos. Although a few grumbled, most drivers momentarily inconvenienced took it in stride.
The marchers; black, brown, and white, were of all ages. From children walking with their parents, being carried or pushed in strollers; to elders well into retirement age, some using a walker or wheelchair to participate. The march was organized by two Rohnert Park moms, Jackie Elward and Julie Leme Royes as well as Elward’s children and local students. It was not the first protest in the friendly city since the death of George Floyd triggered nationwide protests. According to Royes, two smaller protests occurred on June 6, but they were less visible and gathered no media attention. The two then decided to pull together this more visible, better advertised event. They succeeded.
When speaking to the organizers or participants a common theme emerged – change. Elward said she felt like nothing was happening in our town, nothing from our elected officials and there was a need to recognize we are here. Now is the time to help make change happen. Her teenage daughter, Keisha, said she hadn’t really seen support in Rohnert Park for the black community. Lanny Lowery, a retired schoolteacher, also participated hoping to help change occur.
Vice Mayor Jake Mackenzie was present. He said he was representing the mayor and the city council at today’s event. Council members Belforte and Adams were also in attendance. Mackenzie posted on his Facebook page “We on the council are developing a plan to implement the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Pledge, signed by Mayor this week. An important step forward. The council is not silent on this issue.” He told me he expects a staff report on how to make that pledge a reality at the June 23 city council meeting.
Both Elward and Royce welcomed the crowd and spoke to them. Elward said “as a black woman and mother, my children always come first.” With her children by her side she said, “took these guys” for me “to have the nerve to fight” and “they’ve taught me a lot.” She shared she’s been crying for two straight weeks about what was occurring. She gets sick to her stomach worrying “about your children being the next victim.” Royce was honored to help bring the march to the city they both call home. She said it was important to see a black and white mom stand together. “The path forward may not be a straight line” but move forward it must. Elward said, “This is the time.” She implored the crowd “We need your support.” She told them “as long as we keep quiet, then we are part of the problem.”
Elward asked black and brown voices to speak. Her son, a student at Technology High wondered “why people are treated differently because they look different.” 76-year-old Sharon Griffith said her adult child is still called “boy” and she’s “sick of it.” Anferny Moore, age 25, a student at SRJC related how when he moved to Rohnert Park, he was stopped and questioned by police for walking in his own neighborhood. Natalie Rogers talked about having to “have the talk.” She worries every time they go out; that they might not make it back home.
After two minutes of silence, with most participants kneeling, many with an arm raised in closed fist or peace sign, Elward thanked the participants for being here today. As the crowd dispersed, many left their signs with Emilie King, a teacher at Technology High. Those signs will be put up at a public residence on Country Club Drive as an art display.