The Nicest Place in California: Rio Vista

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"Walking Tall Together"

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When a Black man shares that he’s afraid to walk the streets lest he be racially profiled, his neighbors come to the rescue.

In the days following George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police, Jeanne Brown spotted this post on Nextdoor by her neighbor, Rich Lynn:

“Can’t go for a walk because l am Black. Can’t go for a drive because I am Black…. Can’t go for a jog to exercise away my stress because l am Black. Can’t get angry because l am Black. I am home and I am crying.

“What can l do?

“I think about how l got fired from a job after 30 years because l spoke up about safety and the union did not stand with me… I worked on my yard to keep busy and try to contribute to a beautiful neighborhood only to have my neighbor call the authorities to let them know l am creating violations that they need to investigate immediately. (I wasn’t even home—it might have been nice if my neighbor called me to let me know some strangers were in my yard.) I spent today, most of the day, explaining… the implicit bias and systemic racism that people who look like me suffer daily, and hope they begin to understand… ending with having to watch the news of more people who are astounded by the experiences we are living through. I guess that is why the rain cloud gets heavy and dark, and the shower comes because the cloud can no longer hold it, no matter how strong you are during the day.

“Well, l thought this thing would run to a maximum of characters and cut me off. I feel good that it allowed me to express myself. It is good to be heard even if it is a simple little device.

“But what would be better is if others understood and cared enough to make a personal commitment of change. What would be best is to end racism now. That is why l cried, in a way hopeful, a presumptive celebration of the idea that the cancer of racism can be cured in my lifetime.

“If you are reading this it is because I pushed the send button instead of the delete button this time. And thank you for your time.”

What happened next restored Brown’s faith in humanity.

Someone Lynn didn’t even know in the town of about 7,000 responded she would be happy to walk with him. When Lynn showed up the next morning in the parking lot of the neighborhood clubhouse, about 75 people were waiting to walk with him, including the chief of police and the fire chief.

the walking group by the flagpolesCourtesy L Michael Bouyer
The walking group meets by the flagpoles.

The walk has grown past that first day. It has become a way for people in Lynn’s over-55 community to safely protest. There are now two a day, one at 7:25 a.m. and one at 7:25 p.m., to commemorate when Floyd lost his life two time zones over. Before they set out, Lynn speaks for a few minutes about his life and what it means to be Black in America and then the group takes a knee in remembrance of all who have died due to police brutality. Lynn says he uses that time to pray.

“Every day we meet at the tennis courts and Lynn speaks for a couple minutes,” says Tom Watson, one of the people who shows up to walk. “We’ve been posting more on Nextdoor about the issues, and we’re hoping to educate people. I was around when Martin Luther King Jr. was. I thought that was the end of racism—it wasn’t.”

The Rio Vista Police Department wrote on its Facebook page, “In response to the tragic death of George Floyd, there have been protests, marches, walks, and gatherings around the country and world. In Rio Vista, there have been solidarity walks in Trilogy that RVPD units were happy to be a part of. These have been peaceful and we want to thank our community for that. We know this is a difficult time, but we are all friends, family and neighbors—we are a community. Follow the Golden Rule and treat others how you would want to be treated.”

Lynn says he believes he can change the world with his walk, starting with his city. “This is a solidarity walk—not a walk of anger. This is a walk of celebration. It’s a celebration of the beginning of the death of racism.”

Courtesy Rich Lynn, Courtesy Tom Watson
Left: Rich Lynn. Right: The walking group sports matching tshirts that read, “Death to racism”.

The Nomination

This appeared on my local Nextdoor after the death of George Floyd:

“Can’t go for a walk because l am Black. Can’t go for a drive because I am Black can’t sit in my home and have ice cream because l am. I am home and I am crying. Can’t go for a walk because l am Black. Can’t go for a drive because I am Black can’t sit in my home and have ice cream because l am Black.

“Can’t go for a jog to exercise away my stress because l am Black.

“Can’t get angry because l am Black.

“What can l do?

“I think about how l got fired from a job after 30 years because l spoke up about safety and the union did not stand with me. I think about how l have had 4 people pass away last month and had to do virtual funerals or no ceremony at all because people don’t care to wash their hands and respect the personal space of others, remaining mindful of essential workers especially our nurses on the frontline . I worked on my yard to keep busy and try to contribute to a beautiful neighborhood only to have my neighbor call the authorities to let them know l am creating violations that they need to investigate immediately. (I wasn’t even home – it might have been nice if my neighbor called me to let me know some strangers were in my yard). I spent today, most of the day, explaining to mayors, police and Bob the implicit bias and systemic racism that people who look like me suffer daily, and hope they begin to understand…. ending with having to watch the news of more people who are astounded by the experiences we are living through. I guess that is why the rain cloud gets heavy and dark, and the shower comes because the cloud can no longer hold it…no matter how strong you are during the day.

“Well, l thought this thing would run to a maximum of characters and cut me off.

“I feel good that it allowed me to express myself.

“It is good to be heard even if it is a simple little device. But what would be better is if others understood and cared enough to make a personal commitment of change. What would be best is to end racism now. That is why l cried, in a way hopeful, a presumptive celebration of the idea that the cancer of racism can be cured in my lifetime.

“Sorry l am not going to check this for typos. I am sick and tired, [but] if you are reading this it is because I pushed the send button instead of the delete button this time.

“And thank you for your time.”

What happened next is what made me love my town a little more. He got a response from a person that didn’t know him, she said she would be happy to meet with him to walk the next day. The were to meet in the parking lot of the clubhouse at 7:25am. 75 people showed up that next morning to walk with him, including the Chief of Police and the Fire Chief. I get goosebumps recalling the first time I read that.

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