By Julie Lorenz
In mid-July, Northern California Conference churches, The Veg Hub ministry, and the NCC Urban Ministries Department held a Peace and Justice March in Oakland. Nearly 200 people—wearing masks and matching shirts—walked more than a mile from the Grand Advent church to the Lake Merritt Amphitheater for a rally. Participants came from the Elmhurst, Grand Advent, Immanuel Temple, Market Street, Oakland Spanish, and San Leandro Spanish churches, as well as the community.
The idea for the event was sparked by Moises Ramirez, a Grand Advent church local-hire pastor. “I am not an activist; I am a follower of Christ,” he said. “However, to be a follower of Christ means to call out hypocrisy, injustices, oppression, and to stand up for and with our brothers and sisters who are hurting. We are God’s vessels, and when He calls us to stand up, we must stand.”
The previous week, church members distributed 600 fliers in the area, inviting others to participate. The Veg Hub restaurant advertised the march on Facebook as “a stroller friendly, kid-friendly, wheelchair friendly, slow-walking protest for the entire community.” Notified in advance, the police department provided support, blocking off intersections for the marchers.
During the program in the amphitheater, African American Ministries Coordinator/Urban Ministries Director Willie Johnson introduced guest speaker Wanda Johnson, founder and CEO of the Oscar Grant Foundation, whose son was killed more than a decade ago. Others in the program included President Marc Woodson, Executive Secretary Jose Marin, Veg Hub Ministry Director G. W. Chew, as well as pastors and church members.
During his remarks, Woodson described how Adventists have been involved in social justice from the church’s earliest days, including the first General Conference president, who operated a station on the Underground Railroad.
The majority of those involved in the event were young people. “We are continuing the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and those who have gone before us, giving hope to the younger generation,” said Willie Johnson. “It was almost like a passing of the baton, a moment of empowerment. It meant a lot to the young adults for the conference administrators and pastors to come alongside them.”
Woodson appreciates the unity and faithfulness of the Oakland and San Leandro churches as they work in their neighborhoods. “When we talk about engaging our community with compassion, we often think of relief efforts or evangelism,” he said. “But the Bible tells us that we must act justly as well as love mercy. Speaking against injustice is also an act of compassion for our community.”