MLK march: Peace, love take cen­ter stage in Bayview

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAY AREA - By Sarah Ra­vani Sarah Ra­vani is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: sra­vani@ sfchron­i­ Twitter: @SarRa­vani

Stephen Wil­liams closed his eyes and bowed his head. Within sec­onds, nearly a dozen peo­ple formed a cir­cle around him and placed their hands on his head, arms and back.

“God bless you,” said Ron­nie Chism, the pas­tor at New Mount Zion Bap­tist Church in San Fran­cisco’s Bayview dis­trict.

As Chism fin­ished his prayer, the re­main­ing peo­ple, stand­ing at the in­ter­sec­tion of Lane Street and Shafter Av­enue, pat­ted Wil­liams on the back be­fore com­menc­ing on their march Satur­day from the Bayview Opera House to the Martin Luther King Jr. Pool in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

For many peo­ple at­tend­ing the an­nual event, or­ga­nized by dif­fer­ent church lead­ers in the neigh­bor­hood, it wasn’t just about hon­or­ing the late civil rights leader peace­fully. Some, in­clud­ing Wil­liams, were em­bold­ened to march in de­fi­ance of Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­cent com­ments de­nounc­ing im­mi­grants from Haiti and African na­tions.

“I felt an obli­ga­tion to come ... af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump gave the out­landish re­marks about Africans and Haitians,” said Wil­liams, 62, of San Fran­cisco. “It’s like a silent, peace­ful way to op­pose Trump.”

The com­ments by the pres­i­dent were made dur­ing a White House dis­cus­sion of a bi­par­ti­san pro­posal that in­cluded visas for im­mi­grants from these coun­tries.

But in­stead of anger, the church lead­ers em­pha­sized love and peace, tak­ing a page out of King’s book, said Eli­jiah Led­bet­ter, one of the event’s or­ga­niz­ers and the pas­tor at Greater New Light Bap­tist Church in the Bayview.

“We are look­ing for peace, look­ing for God to strengthen our com­mu­nity, strengthen our peo­ples,” Led­bet­ter said. “I wish I could just walk out there and just touch the mean and hate­ful per­son and change things for them.”

An im­por­tant les­son that Wil­liams said he re­al­ized af­ter walk­ing and pray­ing with the group.

“It’s all about the peace­ful peo­ple,” Wil­liams said, as he sat with his son, Michael, 17, af­ter the march. “We have to ac­cept the evil, too, and pray for them.”

The group stopped at ev­ery in­ter­sec­tion, say­ing a prayer for chil­dren, women and men, and along the way, they re­cruited passersby to par­take in their com­mem­o­ra­tion of King and their com­mu­nity.

One boy was skate­board­ing through the in­ter­sec­tion of Thomas Av­enue and Keith Street while his father walked their dog when he was stopped by Chism, Led­bet­ter and sev­eral oth­ers.

Chism placed his hand on the boy’s head as the young­ster stared off into the dis­tance and clutched his skate­board, and said, “We love you. Tell your father we love him, too.”

And with that, the group con­tin­ued on, singing “This Lit­tle Light of Mine” through the street as neigh­bors looked out of their win­dows and waved. One woman stepped out­side her sec­ond-story apart­ment and bobbed her head, singing along with the small crowd as they made it to the next in­ter­sec­tion.

Jana Chism, 18, Ron­nie’s Chism’s daugh­ter, kicked off the march by play­ing “Amaz­ing Grace” on her vi­o­lin while her sis­ter, Imani, 13, ac­com­pa­nied her on the cello.

The march for her was just an­other day in the fight to­ward equal­ity, she said.

“No mat­ter where you come from or the color of your skin, we are all equal,” Jana Chism said. “It’s just im­por­tant be­cause we should treat one an­other the way we want to be treated. That’s what Dr. King fought for. We should re­ally live up to that.”

The march and prayer is just one of many events planned through­out San Fran­cisco to com­mem­o­rate Martin Luther King Jr. dur­ing the long week­end.

Events in­clude faith lec­tures at var­i­ous churches through­out the city and a comic fes­ti­val fea­tur­ing black artists, as well as a film screen­ing of “The Death of a King” at Yerba Buena Gar­dens on Mon­day.

The march in the Bayview con­cluded with more prayers at the Martin Luther King Jr. Pool be­fore some par­tic­i­pants jumped into the pool. Be­fore then, Chism took a minute to re­mind the par­tic­i­pants who they were hon­or­ing.

Martin Luther King Jr. “was a reverend. That’s what drove him,” Ron­nie Chism said to the crowd at the Bayview Opera House. “Today is not about re­li­gion, it’s about your spir­i­tual path. We are re­spon­si­ble for our broth­ers and sis­ters. We need to care more than we are car­ing.”

Paul Chinn / The Chron­i­cle

Mar­i­lyn Chism (left) joins Pas­tor Eli­jah Led­bet­ter and oth­ers in a prayer dur­ing a march through the Bayview to cel­e­brate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

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