By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – The 2nd anniversary of Southern California Peace Rides held special meaning for the numerous families who attended a festival and commemoration of the efforts to lessen violence.
The Peace Rides, a grassroots movement, began as a testament to the historic 1995 Million Man March and in honor of its convener, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.
Minister Farrakhan led the Million Man March October 16, 1995. It was backed by grassroots leaders, activists, pastors, imams and religious leaders across America.
“The main purpose and goal of the Peace Rides is to start a movement within the urban cities of America that promotes and spread peace,” said Tony Muhammad, Nation of Islam Western region representative.
The multi-ethnic, multi-faith movement includes UPFest, a free festival featuring a concert, vendors, food, and activities for children.
“In the 60’s there was the civil rights movement, the Black Power movement, but now we’ve turned on each other. We want to destroy the apathy that has set in the hearts of Black people and to trigger the spirit of peace in their hearts to wake up,” Mr. Muhammad said.
This year’s Peace Ride occurred just after the Nation of Islam returned from commemorating the 19th Anniversary of the Million Man March in Kingston, Jamaica on Oct. 19. It was the first time ever the event has been held outside of the U.S. The Peace Ride festival was held in Los Angeles a week later.
When hundreds of motorcyclists, low riders, and corvettes rolled out of Leimert Park and throughout South L.A., they rode in honor of many, including Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old mentally ill, unarmed Black man shot in August by two Los Angeles Police Department officers.
The riders carried the prayers and hope of many like Ezell’s parents, Tritobia and Ezell Ford, Sr., that no other child or loved one would be gunned down by police or in senseless street violence.
“My emotions are all over the place right now and if it wasn’t for God in my heart, I don’t know where I would be right now, because I am really hurt over what happened to my son,” Ms. Ford told The Final Call, after Mr. Muhammad asked UPFest participants to keep her family in their prayers.
Ms. Ford feels she is in no better position than the night her son was killed because she doesn’t have any information. No one has come to her and she spends her days and nights surfing the internet for any update on proceedings in the case.
“It’s hard just waiting. It’s very hard. It’s very painful and I don’t wish this on anybody,” Ms. Ford lamented. “I appreciate all the support from the community. I appreciate all the prayers. I appreciate all the kind words. It’s really what’s helping to keep me grounded, ” she added.
Support from Peace Riders, UPFest organizers and participants meant a great deal to Tanya Carter. She spoke to The Final Call in front of a booth with flyers, t-shirts, posters and notices seeking information about her youngest son’s murder. She was seeking help and help spreading the word.
Her oldest son was killed in 2003 and her second son was killed in a drive-by in August, Ms. Carter explained. There are no suspects. “I’m trying to find out what happened. I want to know who’s responsible for this,” she said.
She feels better knowing those who killed her eldest son are in custody, but she can’t rest until she finds out who murdered her other son.
Ms. Carter learned about the Peace Rides after the first murder. Loved ones introduced her to Vicky Lindsey, a peace activist and founder of the non-profit group Project Cry No More.
“Since this incident I’ve been trying to stay connected because that’s the only thing that’s keeping me sane right now, just having all this love and all this support,” Ms. Carter told The Final Call.
“I think this is one of the best things we could have come up with. We have to start standing up. We have to start sticking out. We have to start trying to get through to the young generation. This is not the way to do it. We should be loving each other, not killing each other.”
Mr. Muhammad started the Peace Rides in October 2012 with the support of Power 106 radio deejay Big Boy and Rev. Alfreddie Johnson of the True Faith Christian Church.
According to organizers, the movement has grown to include 207 motorcycle and car clubs and more than 300 civic groups and organizations of diverse cultures. It includes most of the gang intervention groups in the city including the Southern California Cease Fire Committee, as well as a variety of community leaders, groups and congregations.
During each ride and UPFest, participants have distributed the Million Man March pledge urging greater personal and shared responsibility for peace and the non-religious booklet, “The Way to Happiness.”
The efforts are having an impact on the city of Los Angeles, said Mayor Eric Garcetti, who issued a proclamation honoring the United in Peace Movement and the Peace Rides.
During “the first full year of the monthly Peace Rides, annual crime statistics compiled by the Los Angeles Police Department show the City of Los Angeles coincidentally experienced a historic drop in crime, the lowest number of homicides since 1966,” said Reverend Alfreddie Johnson as he read the proclamation.
The UPFest continued as participants turned toward a jumbo screen that replayed Farrakhan issuing the Million Man March Pledge in 1995. People, who watched appeared frozen in time as they also repeated Farrakhan’s words.
Then Mr. Muhammad asked everyone at the park to bow their heads, stretch their hands out toward the families of those killed in violence and pray.