BARNEGAT, NJ - Today's shining sun seemed the perfect day to go to the beach or just take in the rays. However, for a diverse crowd of over 200 individuals, it was a fine day for walking. The group of predominately local people walked with a message of peace. The crowd was led by religious leaders of the community, together with Barnegat Mayor John Novak. Several members of the Barnegat Police Department were also on hand.
Just a week ago, Walter M. Brown, Jr. put together the Walk for Peace. Brown is a newcomer to Barnegat and an Associate Minister at the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Red Bank. He also served in the United States Marines for 22 years, a fact he reminded protesters as the walk started.
“I want this to remain peaceful,” said Brown. “After 22 years in the Marines, I know how to shut everything down if it turns otherwise.”
From all appearances, Brown was speaking to the proverbial choir. Bayside Chapel came with a few of their pastoral team. Pastor Dawn of United Methodist Church and Pastor Glen Swank of Assembly of God all walked with the crowd. Later, they each offered a prayer with a common theme asking all to “love thy neighbors” as themselves.
The walkers represented a diverse group of people who came together for a common cause. One mom carried her young daughter on top of her shoulders most of the journey from the Little League Field to the downtown gazebo. Someone pushed an older gentleman in a wheelchair, while others walked by his side.
Children, teens, moms, dads, and many gray haired ladies and men joined the subtle chants. “No justice, no peace.” And, in answer to “Say His Name,” George Floyd.
Some held signs proclaiming “Black Lives Matter,” while others denounced discrimination in any form. Others made sure to show their support for police in addition to outcries against injustice. Names of numerous victims of racism were written out in remembrance.
As walkers proceeded past Lefty's on Route 9, the owner was all ready to hand out water and snacks. A youngster handed out bottled water as the crowd reached the downtown area. The sign said the water was intended for "peaceful protesters and police."
At the gazebo, one of the pastors from Bayside Chapel made mention of the coronavirus and the fact that so many were home glued to their televisions. He wondered if the tragic deaths of Ahmad Arbery or George Floyd would have received as much attention if people were involved in their regular lives.
Reine Galdiano, a Barnegat High School student spoke to the large group gathered at the gazebo. She admitted that she was unaccustomed to public speaking, but wanted to share a message of love. She took to Corinthians from the Bible to share verses that rang familiar to many.
Augustine Ahiabor, a 30-year old African-American man who said he graduated from Southern Regional expressed his amazement. He said he never expected to see a group gather together as they did in Barnegat or Stafford. At his request, the crowd responded to words he wrote - with Amen after Amen.
Walter Brown may be new to Barnegat, but his message should not be novel. There's something to be said about being "thy brother's keeper" and walking in peace.