The afternoon was humid and sticky as locals and members of the greater Los Angeles area streamed into the park. Yoga mats and blankets were spread out on the large expanse of grass and nearly everyone wore a face mask.
Earlier that morning, students from Cal State Long Beach had created a memorial to honor all of the lives that have been lost to police brutality. A banner hanging above the crowd read, “Standing in Solidarity.”
“This wasn’t a protest, this was a sit-in,” smiled Nichole East, a tattooed and bejeweled 35-year-old. “It was inspired by the wonderful beautiful march [Sunday] in the city of Long Beach.” East runs “Reasons to Love Long Beach,” an online resource page for all things Long Beach.
On Sunday, protests that started off peacefully turned dangerous as the day went on. Stores were looted and fires set, juxtaposing the peace that had characterized the morning.
“I think that our community was really hurting from that,” said East. “That wasn’t Long Beach, the looters weren’t Long Beach.”
East and Jahan Man Singh, a local yogi, teamed up to boost the morale of the Long Beach community by holding the “Long Beach Peace and Meditation Sit-In.”
A post floated around Instagram, originating from the “Reasons To Love Long Beach” page. The caption asked for the city to peacefully gather and support the Black Lives Matter Movement.
“Please bring a mat, water and a mask,” said Singh, a self-proclaimed “spiritual gangster,” via Instagram. “We encourage the practice of social distancing.”
The protests in honor of the life of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody, have occurred in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. After months of quarantining at home, Long Beach had been on the verge of reopening. However, Floyd’s wrongful death inspired people in Long Beach and around the world to leave their homes to speak out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Protests have taken place in all 50 states as well as 18 other countries. In California, people are required to wear masks while outside and maintain a physical distance of six feet from one another.
Many with personal health issues or high-risk family members have felt unsafe going to protests due to the number of people and the risk of exposure from mass gatherings.
The Long Beach meditation sit-in was the perfect event to get out and be heard, while still maintaining social distancing.
Hundreds of people turned out to the park, where they sat in the blazing heat and observed a moment of silence in honor of those lost to police brutality before Singh led them in meditation.
Peering into the blue ocean from the top the Bluff in Long Beach can have a soothing effect on anyone, but Singh’s mantra added a new meaning to the calm.
His powerful voice rang out, “Peace.” Inhale, exhale. “Harmony.” Inhale, exhale. “Laughter.” Inhale, exhale. “Love.”
The crowd recited the words and then fell silent after the fourth repetition. The heat suddenly didn’t feel as brutal. The sun beat down but the mood of the crowd shifted.
Lolita Mojica, a 25-year-old bartender and business owner, moved from Paramount back to her hometown of Long Beach.
“My city needs me,” Mojica said. “In these times everyone has their marching orders and so we all just have to do what we can.”
Mojica has been having difficult conversations about current affairs with her friends and family. Her friends joined her at the sit-in after seeing the post on “Reasons to Love Long Beach.” One of Mojica’s friends, Long Beach native Tracey Gutierrez, drove from Las Vegas just to join in.
“It broke my heart to see in Long Beach that my community was doing something for the cause,” Gutierrez said. “I felt like I could make an impact by coming here and having the difficult conversations with the people I was closest to.”
As the afternoon progressed, a 9 p.m. curfew notice from the City of Long Beach buzzed on phones throughout the park. The event ended at 5:30 and the crowd dispersed. Some left the park to return home but others went to a protest that was beginning along Ocean Blvd.
Peace reigned over the dissipating crowd as they chanted the familiar chants of “Black lives matter” and “no justice - no peace” and honked their car horns. Signs waved and the energy generated by the cause was evident among the people. Despite the heat, despite the grueling pandemic, Long Beach had been able to come together for a moment of peace, harmony, laughter and love.
“Reasons to Love Long Beach” is hosting a safe space for the local Black community and movement supporters at Bluff Park Sunday, June 6th.