In the weeks following George Floyd’s death, with a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck, a group of senior citizens from Orange County formed a racial justice advocacy group and organized a series of vigils to highlight the unjust killings of black Americans by the police to draw attention.
With the threat of a deadly virus in the air, the elderly group gathered on a street corner, some in wheelchairs, others with strollers in hand and carers nearby, holding up signs that said “Silence is Violence” and “Seniors For.” Racial justice. ”
People who drove by honked their horns in support and gave their thumbs up.
The sight was irregular. Usually protesters are much younger.
“They were just delighted to see that we were doing something instead of just sitting and playing bingo,” said Vivian Johnson, 85. “We just decided we had to do something and we couldn’t just sit and hear the news. ” . ”
The eight founding members of Seniors for Racial Justice live in the Regents Point senior community in Irvine. Johnson said about 60 people from the community attended the vigil.
After the Floyd demonstrations, the seniors teamed up with Vote Forward to write more than 400 letters asking people to vote in the presidential election.
The group also seeks to partner with the local National Assn. for encouraging people of color to provide youth care.
“Many of us feel that despite our age, we want to continue to make our contribution to society,” said Johnson.
A mural of George Floyd can be seen in George Floyd Square, Minneapolis.
Amid increasing reports of increasing racism and violence against Asian Americans across the country, the group is currently working on plans to support the local Asian American community.
The group will meet on Monday to discuss a vigil in honor of the Asian-American community.
“One goal is to educate ourselves and our community about our inherent racial bias,” said Johnson. “Our prejudices lead to injustice, so we really had to deal with our own prejudices, and we would encourage others to do the same. And I believe that it is not enough to be kind when there is an unjust system.
“People can say, ‘Oh, I haven’t harmed people of color, it’s not my fault that there is injustice.’ But being kind is not enough when you have an unjust system. To claim to be politically neutral in the face of injustice is actually a very political position because it upholds the status quo. And it’s on the side of oppression. “
Johnson’s husband George died in October. But before his death, George attended all four vigils after Floyd’s murder, despite having Alzheimer’s and kidney disease and being confined to a wheelchair.
“He said, ‘It’s the right thing, I have to do it,” Johnson said of her husband.
George was a Lutheran minister. In his 40s, he was so concerned about helping the disenfranchised that he became director of the world hunger program for the entire Lutheran Church, Johnson said.
Johnson and George faced poverty around the world and often lived among the impoverished. In the 1990s, Johnson and her husband witnessed the injustices of South Africa during apartheid.
All of these experiences influenced Johnson.
“It’s no wonder I feel very strongly about these issues,” she said.
Johnson and another member of the group, Jan Wilson, are both part of the Irvine United Congregational Church, which Wilson said is a progressive church that advocates dignity and justice within the community.
Wilson, 74, said her family had influenced her pursuit of social justice. Her mother in particular was involved in fair housing issues in the San Gabriel Valley and advocated the rights of farm workers.
Wilson grew up in a predominantly white community in Arcadia, or as she put it, “a bubble”. She said it was done this way through real estate agreements that denied housing to non-whites.
She now sees the bubble for what it was. She said the Santa Anita Racetrack, where proms were held and teenagers learned to drive in the parking lot, was once a huge internment camp. Thousands of Japanese Americans were forced to live in converted horse stables for six months during World War II.
“Nowhere in our training was this ever mentioned,” she said. “It has been completely left out of our story.”
Wilson, who worked as a librarian primarily at the college level, grew up in the 1960s and was involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement. During her student days, she volunteered for a few summers at a community center in Watts, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles and the site of historic protests and racist tensions.
“I think more of us whites are really committed to the idea of white privilege and our part in it,” said Wilson. “It’s not enough just to try to make nice social programs, we have to really understand the systemic nature and try to use the influence we have to influence that.”
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