Summoning resolve while still gripped by fear and grief, East Palo Altans reached outward and looked inward for solutions to the violence that this month has taken the lives of two young men.
Led by children bearing signs with slogans like "Please stop killing our daddies," about 50 adults and children joined a milelong peace march to a park and chanted "no guns, no drugs."
Christopher Baker, 21, and Lonnie Brown, 24, were shot to death in the space of three hours Oct. 5. They were the small city's fifth and sixth homicides of the year, one fewer than the number the city had suffered by the same date last year.
But, City Manager Ron Davis told the crowd assembled at Jack Farrell Park, "six is six too many."
The shooting victims appear to have been targeted, said former Councilwoman Sharifa Wilson, who now sits on the Ravenswood school board. "They don't seem to be random violence."
Still, the killings have unnerved many in the city's tight-knit African-American community. Their lives have been tragically touched by the violence.
"I'm frustrated because we can be a great city," said Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier, one of the march's organizers. "I am afraid when my son gets on his bike and is gone too long. I get on the phone and ask, 'Where are you?' "
Likewise, said Tayischa Deldridge, mother of three, ages 21, 18 and 5. "It's a parent's worst nightmare to get a phone call saying, 'Your child was at the wrong place at the wrong time.' "
Her children now answer her phone calls with "Mom, I'm OK."
Check on kids
Former schools Trustee Larry Moody did get a dreaded call earlier this month, but it turned out that the victim was a friend, not his son.
Moody and other speakers exhorted those who do know troubled young people to reach out to them. As others said, "everybody here knows who is doing what."
Keep tabs on kids, your own and others', Moody said. And when you find something worrying, he said, it's OK to call and say, "I'm following you on Facebook, and that's not appropriate language."
Rally co-organizer Ebonii Black, marching in memory of friend Charles Perry, 34, who in February was East Palo Alto's first homicide victim of the year, urged people to watch over the community's kids.
"If I am around your children," she said, "I'm going to be checking on them."
The killings have disproportionately affected African-Americans, who make up only about 17 percent of the city's population. While East Palo Alto Mayor Laura Martinez and planning commissioner Jorge Prado addressed the rally, participation by Latinos, who make up two-thirds the city's population, was sparse.
And the low turnout on a day of perfect weather seemed to belie the talk of community concern. "I am saddened that this park is not crowded," Councilman David Woods said. "How dare you sit at home because the 49ers game is on?"
Speakers went beyond merely calling for more peaceful streets. Some people called for more jobs, after-school programs and recreation as solutions. Woods said many of those things already exist. And former East Palo Alto resident Troy Henderson took certain young people to task for short-sighted thinking.
"Why can't we get jobs?" he asked. "No, you don't want to go to school. You don't want to learn," he said. "If we've been selling drugs and go get an $8-an-hour job, you are going to be mad."
He urged young people to get themselves together, finish their education and aspire to something beyond making money. And, he went on, speak proper English and dress to impress the boss.
"If you are going to an interview with your pants sagging, he's already thrown you out the door."
The community has some ways to reach out to kids causing problems, speakers said.
Melvin Gaines, who leads Operation Ceasefire, a program to divert offenders from the criminal justice system, said, "Let me know if you've got the ear of those young people. We want to help them change their lives."
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.