KINGSBURG – There were prayers offered, scriptures cited, testimonies shared and poetry read at the Kingsburg Unity In The Park rally June 5. With First Friendship Baptist Church of Selma’s Pastor Sean Battle on the stage, the local show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement felt more like a Sunday service at times.

“How good and how pleasant it is for brethren – and that means brothers and sisters - to dwell together in unity,” Battle said kicking off the event at Memorial Park. “How good and how pleasant is it for us to be here together in the City of Kingsburg? Here for one common reason and one common cause. It’s not only in our city, county, state, and in our nation, but in our world. It’s time for things to change.”

Kingsburg resident Sirina Renee Resendez collaborated with the newly formed youth group, Kingsburg Make A Change organization, to host the event in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

“The community really came out and supported the rally and what we’re trying to do,” Resendez said. “We’re really standing up for unity and solidarity for the black community.”

They invited Kingsburg City Council members, Kingsburg Police Chief Neil Dadian and other speakers to the rally where the common theme centered on changes they say are long overdue in light of George Floyd’s death.

“What we saw should never, ever have happened to begin with and should never ever happen again,” Police Chief Dadian said. He estimated at least 200 people attended and described attendees as “respectful and peaceful, and the best part about this is they care. You can tell they care.”

Regarding Floyd’s death, Dadian said the tactics used are not what law enforcement officer are trained to do and none of the officers he knows support what happened.

“That was a criminal act by somebody who was acting outside of the law. I know thousands of [police officers] and no one has supported that.”

Mayor Michelle Roman and Mayor Pro Tem Laura North also spoke at the event while other Councilmembers Sherman Dix, Jewel Hurtado and City Manager Alex Henderson also attended.

Roman focused on unity saying the City needed to “stand together in outrage against any acts of racism.”

After seeing news reports of George Floyd’s “senseless murder,” she can see how much pain the nation is in and said now is the time to listen, educate ourselves and reflect.

“We know all lives matter can’t matter until black lives matter. Humanity matters. Decency matters and as a city, we raise that up as part of our values. This is a time for unity.”

Councilwoman North struggled against tears saying she was searching for the right words during this time of national pain.

“I don’t have a lot of words to say, because I don’t have a lot of answers, but when hate is so loud, love can’t be silent. That’s why I’m wearing [this T-shirt with that phrase] here. I think, when we don’t have the words, the only thing we do have is our actions to show that and to show it in Kingsburg coming together.”

JaShaun Banks, a former football and track and field coach at Kingsburg High, shared one experience as a correctional officer. He’d greet those coming through the front entrance of the prison where he worked and said by reaching out to get to know co-workers, he hoped to break down stereotypes and prejudices.

“My mom and dad raised me so that every time somebody gave you a dirty look, you say, ‘God bless you and have a great day.’ When they heard those words, you could see them exhale and you’d see the fear leave. You could see the joy come over them, like maybe this is one of the good ones. You’ll never know until you ask. That’s the point. You have to fight the bias first and the stereotypes of how they portray everybody in movies and video games.”

Banks also shared how he answered a co-worker’s statement about not understanding why the rioting is taking place over Floyd’s death.

“That turned into a 45-minute conversation and after that, it brought him to tears. In that moment, he understood. He won’t know what it feels like, but he understood. The next day, that same officer was talking to somebody else about that same situation.”

Former Kingsburg resident, Amanda Brazzell, convinced her husband, Ty Brazzell to speak about his experiences as an African American man. Amanda said while growing up in Kingsburg, he friends that were minorities would speak of the racism they endured. Being white, she did not experience it herself and couldn’t really understand what they meant.

“I didn’t truly understand the reality of it. I had no point of reference. It wasn’t until I left that I got to hear more stories and know more voices. I found the compassion and I recognized my privilege, so now I’m committed to showing up every day and helping people learn. We have a ways to go,” she said in the effort to address racism.

“I’m hopeful for Kingsburg. I know we have a lot of work to do and a lot of difficult conversations ahead, but growth requires pain sometimes.”

Her husband, who goes by Brazz, said as an interracial couple, they still get stared at, depending on which city they are in. He recalls growing up in an all-white school from kindergarten through sixth grade in Bakersfield.

“I hope to have kids one day, but I have a fear of having a kid sometimes, because I don’t want them to experience things I’ve experienced.”

Brazz added that while he knows what it’s like to see people clutch their purse in fear, to be watched in stores and judged as they go out to eat at restaurants, he also recognizes that police officers have one of the most challenging jobs ever, especially now.

Speaking the Kingsburg Police officers in attendance that night, Brazz thanked them for doing “one of the hardest jobs in the world. You have to put that uniform every single day not knowing if you get to go home at night. I thank you for being here today and letting this happen.”

The young people in the audience also spoke up about their experiences with racism and the need to start changing society.

Abigail Sanchez, a 2018 Kingsburg High graduate who is now a UC San Diego student said she doesn’t think there is a police brutality problem in town. However that didn’t mean they couldn’t still show care and support and advocate against those issues.

“These injustices run rampant throughout the United States. We would like to change the world, but we decided we would start here first. I’d like to thank the City for supporting us to hold an event like this.”

Makayla Brumfield, an incoming senior at Kingsburg High, said a group of like-minded high school and college students have formed the Kingsburg Make A Change organization to start affecting change.

“We all have the same passion for the [Black Lives Matter] movement, so we decided that if we all wanted to make change, we’d like to make it together.”

Brumfield is half Mexican and African-American. She says she’s dealt with name-calling at school and feels that she’s received different treatment from staff members than white students. She would like bring awareness to the issue to start changing that behavior.

She’s aware that not everyone in town would agree there is an issue of racism in town.

“I’d say to them that quote that the mayor said, that all lives will matter once black lives matter.”

Kingsburg Make A Change members created a number of posters for the Unity rally and posted them around town and near Memorial Park to publicize where the event would take place. The posters were removed. Brumfield said seeing this was shocking and hurtful.

“However, with the help of our City that heard our voices, they helped us organize. We were shown different ways to support this movement. With that being said, I’m calling on any business owners here and willing to support us by hanging up our posters, you can reach out to me or one of my friends.”

The group can be reached through social media at https://www.facebook.com/KingsburgMakeAChangeOrg/.

Pastor Battle concluded the rally saying that now they need to continue the conversations in an intentional manner in order to make a real difference, locally and around the globe.

“We can all come here together and we could march, rally and go back and say we did it. But if we don’t do anything else, then we really didn’t do anything. In order for us to change the narrative in our community, in our county, in our state, in nation and in our world, we have to be intentional about having relationships with each other.”

Resendez said now they will host fireside chats New Life Ministry so members of the African American community can speak about their experiences to build awareness and start changing systemic racism.

“I’d like for us to have some education or teaching about racism. We want to have the black community there and then have others in the community ask questions. We want to bring awareness, break down some biases and stereotypes and just get to know each other.”

Laura Maldonado can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@hanfordsentinel.com

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