On the day set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., nearly 400 people packed into the sanctuary of Covenant Worship Center in Berkeley to both celebrate the day and to talk about securing the future for young Black men.
Among those who attended were actor Delroy Lindo, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks and Berkeley Councilmember Darryl Moore, listening to powerful spoken word artists, dancers and panelists who discussed some of the steps necessary to “Save Our Sons.”
The audience was comprised of young Black men, teenagers, parents, church members and representatives from sororities and fraternities including: Delta Sigma Theta, Alpha Kappa Alpha and Kappa Alpha Psi.
“One of the greatest tributes to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy and holiday is to continue relevant forums such as the Save Our Sons event held today,” said Bishop K.R. Woods, pastor of Covenant Worship Center Church.
“Historically and currently a groundswell of change happens when people of color teach people of color their rights under the law,” he said.
A trio of attorneys and the uncle of Oscar Grant were the featured panelists for the event.
Paul Henderson, chief deputy chief of staff and public safety director for Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco, civil rights attorneys John Burris and Adante Pointer, and Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson talked about the current protests and tactics, and tips on dealing with the police.
When asked about the current movement and protests following the shooting deaths of young, Black men like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Johnson said that he’s been asked to speak at events at Los Altos High School and churches in Marin County.
“This is not a moment in time. This is a movement,” he said. “We see everyone speaking to the issue of Black Lives Matter.”
Henderson agreed. “This has been going on for years and years and years, and people are realizing what the injustice is and are fed up,” he said.
When asked whether the protests across the country are making a difference, the panelists agreed – they are. Pointer said that when he presents to juries, he can tell they have seen the protests and videos like Eric Garner’s death.
“Now, when I have to communicate with jurors (about police brutality) it’s not like I’m starting from a blank slate,” he said.
Burris, who has represented a number of high-profile cases against various police agencies on behalf of clients like Oscar Grant, Rodney King and the late Tupac Shakur, said that since Michael Brown’s death, he has become part of seven new cases.
“What is happening now is a national consciousness about the movement and policy brutality,” Burris said.
Pointer, who works with Burris, said that African American young men are 21 times more likely than any other race to be gunned down.
“The question is how do we change this story,” he said.
Burris urged the young men present to be wise if they are stopped by police.
“You might be right – but you could be dead right,” he said. “I’d rather you live (through the incident) and come see me.”
Johnson urged the crowd to join with him and others in the struggle for justice.
“It is critical that we all become our brother’s keeper,” he said. “The change starts with us.”