It’s hard to find anyone who lives or works in Oakland who hasn’t been touched in some way by violent crime, but Roy Northington sees the crime wave’s effects more than most.
For the past 12 years Northington, 39, has been a mortician in Oakland. By his own estimate, he prepares an average of four bodies a month, using wax and cosmetics to repair the faces of people cut down by gun violence on the streets of Oakland.
“I ask myself when I will stop seeing young black men laid out on my table as their parents or grandparents are grieving,” Northington said.
He’s not the only one asking, but there are few visible signs of the community fighting back.
One big sign of resistance now hangs over the doors of the First African Methodist Episcopal church on Telegraph Avenue. A large white banner reading “Stop Black on Black Violence” lets the world know that the church is trying to put an end to the violence. And, the church is about to kick off a year of outreach events to engage neighborhood residents who’ve lost hope that the crime wave will end.
The Rev. Dr. Harold Mayberry attended the funeral of slain journalist Chauncey Bailey, the apparent victim of a so-called black on black crime. It was there he saw members of a motorcycle club holding signs that said, “Stop Black on Black Violence.”
“It occurred to me that the message needed to be out much broader than at a funeral,” said Mayberry.
So, he went back to his church and without consulting any members of his congregation, Mayberry ordered a banner made with the same message and hung it over the front doors.
The sign has been a hit with members of Mayberry’s congregation.
“People said this is the kind of message the church should be sending,” said Mayberry.
Shawna Greene Jasper, 31, is a funeral director across the street from the church. During the past seven years, she’s seen a dramatic increase in the number of her clients who have died from gun violence. She says she supports churches like Mayberry’s stepping up to voice their opinions.
“People are always gonna die. It doesn’t affect my business. Speaking as a parent of a one year old, I would like to see the crime stop,” Jasper said.
Some people in the neighborhood were skeptical that the banner alone would have any meaningful effect on crime. Bruce Whyte II, 50, was installing blinds at a business on Telegraph Avenue.
“My daughter never lived in the ghetto. She watches it on TV and thinks that it’s cool,” Whyte said. “We need to stop making violence cool.”
Mayberry can’t change popular culture, but he is hoping that the activities his church is planning in celebration of its 150th anniversary will show the surrounding community that there is hope for change. Beginning in November, the church will be hosting free GED training and diversity training, as well as conducting a voter registration drive.
“The first thing you’ve got to do in order to change the way things are happening is to change people’s thinking,” Mayberry said.