LONG BRANCH: On May 3, 15 to 20 people had begun gathering at the small parking lot at Jerry Morgan Park on Liberty Street. The leaders form the community called it a Rally and March for Change.
First noticed at the site was the Greater Long Branch NAACP banner which rested on an SUV of one of the marchers. Other posters and flyers arrived as people did.
Local friends who see each other occasionally said hello again. Some were coming together since their last gathering at the Martin Luther King, Jr. commemorative in February.
The small, almost silent group was growing in numbers for their peace march for change as they walked together down Broadway to the steps of Long Branch City Hall.
As they gathered NAACP President Bill Dangler chatted with the marchers and clergy from the area, six from Long Branch and others from Neptune, Red Bank, Asbury Park all coming together for the same reasons; "Stop the Violence" as one banner read, "Justice for ALL" read another and also "Thou Shalt Not Kill."
Among the marchers was city Mayor Adam Schneider, Councilmembers Joy Bastelli, John Pallone and Public Safety Director Jason Roebuck. Other community leaders were prominent in the group as it moved off Liberty Street and west toward city hall.
Along the route they sang "We shall overcome..." the first verse is near soft voices, heartfelt. It is the spiritual often sung in the days of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The youngsters carrying the banner were enrapt in the words. "We shall overcome some day."
Rev. Nunn from Asbury Park called to the marchers, "What do we want?"
They chorused in unison, "Justice."
"When do we want it?"
"Now!" was the emphatic response.
"No justice, no peace," he said.
Walkers along the avenue paused to watch, some cheering and waving encouragement. Peacefully responding to the marchers. No violence. Cars yielding to walkers. Residents yielding crosswalks to the parade of peace seekers.
At City Hall, Dangler addressed the marchers arrayed at the platform area at the entrance. The event was arranged quickly in response to unrest and violence in cities around the country, notably Ferguson, Missouri, Charleston North Carolina, and Baltimore, Maryland and other cities afar, and in closer places like Bridgeton, New Jersey and the City of New York. The issues and causes are the same: poverty, injustice and racial discrimination.
He went on to say that with poverty there is also complacency, giving up to injustice. He said his leads to what ends as violence, the riots in Baltimore, for example.
He said what has happened in other places they want to avoid here in our area, Long Branch, Asbury Park, Neptune, and towns around.
He spoke of a forum called with the Asbury Park and Red Bank NAACP's help which brought leaders in the police areas of the community to a 2 hour discussion of what has happened to police community relationships over time, bringing mistrust and more.
The towns participating in a police community forum were Long Branch, Red Bank, Tinton Falls, Fair Haven and the State's Lt. Gov. Kim Guidagno. Members of the community also participated, asking challenging questions to explore what can be done to bring police and the citizenry closer together to become one community serving the needs of all. "They all jumped a he chance to be a part of peace," he added.
That forum was videotaped and is available on local channels.
"We want to have open dialogue" between clergy, citizens and all parties, he said. "We don't have the answers but we know this has to run its course."
Elder Caroline Bennett, Pastor at McLaughlin Pentecostal Church offered an opening prayer, asking for the young to hear her appeal for none violence. "We all have mind to come together "she said. She called for an alliance with the police, fire department and all city offices to come together as in years past.
Mayor Adam Schneider was asked by Rev. Aaron Gibson days before to join the march. They have known each other for 20 years. He told how the reverend was from Baltimore, living only a block from the scene where riots took place. "I am here as a fried. I am also here for the community." He said he was aware of what has gone one in the past weeks. He said he knew of issues locally in the city, but that even as the city police have his awareness of the matters his police attend. He has shared the experiences with the clergy as well as others.
Much is due to what goes on in Washington. He said it is rich versus the poor. He blamed hem for ignoring of the issues here and all over. He said locally things are pretty good, but more can be done. Reverend Gibson said there is need for dialogue.
"If you see something, say something," Gibson said.
He said this so not a Long Branch issue or a Baltimore issue and that it is all over the United States.
"Technology today can open the ways to record and manage what is going on," he said.
He closed by saying we are all God's children working together.
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