A black pastor from Oklahoma and her white counterpart from Brooklyn led a diverse brigade of several hundred church leaders and their congregants Monday morning in Sacramento’s annual March for the Dream, joining some 25,000 people walking through the city to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Pastor Francis Anfuso from Rock of Roseville church and his friend Joy Johnson of Higher Hope Christian Church in North Highlands have marched together during the past three King holidays in Sacramento. “We’re trying to heal the breach between our collective churches and our tendency to worship separately,” Johnson said. “We’ve now walked together, talked together, spent time in one another’s churches and homes. I’d say at least 500 people have been brought into the tent.”
Many marched in green shirts emblazoned with King's words: "Hate is too big a burden to bear, I choose love."
Anfuso, who said he was inspired by King as a teenager in New York, worked with Johnson to form the City Pastors Fellowship made up of about 300 senior pastors from throughout the region. They’ve produced eight videos promoting racial reconciliation, using Sacramento’s multicultural tapestry as a backdrop.
Anfuso truly lives King’s admonition in his letter from the Birmingham jail “to not stand for the appalling silence of the majority,” said MLK 365 march director Sam Starks, who helped oversee Sunday’s event. “That majority oftentimes was part of the church, and Sunday’s still the most segregated day of the week.”
Sacramento’s march, now in its 35th year, has become the region’s signature event, attracting every color, creed and advocacy group to walk from Oak Park Community Center to Sacramento City College and on to the downtown convention center, where they’re met by a northern march starting at Grant High School in Del Paso Heights. Police estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people turned out Monday, with the air crisp and fresh from rains and the sun raising the temperature to a springlike 61 degrees.
“It’s humanity at its best,” said one of the green-clad marchers, Ronette Wilson of Rocklin’s Bridgeway Church, who hosts foreign exchange students and was marching for the first time. “It encourages unity. You realize people care about what others are going through. Sometimes you have to get out of your safe little bubble.” She raised her hands to the powder blue sky and said, “This is divine intervention.”
Kolawole Tokeaux, 25, and Aika Eden, 21, students at California State University, Sacramento, relished the diversity on display Monday. Eden said as African Americans, they’ve run into subtle racism on campus. “If I go to introduce myself to a group of Asian American girls, they shoo me away and don’t realize I’m half-Japanese,” Eden said. “They’re closed off to me like they’re afraid.”
Taylor Desmangles and Dell Banks addressed those fears with red T-shirts that read, “I am not a criminal.” On the flip side was a bull’s-eye with a line through it.
“It’s a reminder you shouldn’t judge people off the color of their skin,” said Banks, a 29-year-old preschool teacher who said he’s been profiled by police while driving in North Natomas.
Johnson said many white people are “blind to much of the day-to-day strain on African Americans. It takes consistent communication and conversation for those of us who want to champion the change.”
She said she herself was suspicious of Anfuso when he first approached her in friendship. “He’s a relentless pursuer of interracial relationships, and it’s not for any personal gain,” she said.
“People are always trying to tell us this is never going to work, you’re not going to pull the races together,” she said. But they are already seeing results as the multiracial group of pastors works together to bring groceries, haircuts, clothes and medical care to inner-city schools and apartment complexes.
Anfuso, 66, said he can connect with a broad spectrum of people because he’s been on a lifelong journey of transformation. The son of a New York state Supreme Court justice, he was raised Catholic, then became an atheist and later a Hare Krishna before he “wound up receiving Jesus.” He joined a Christian commune, married and became a minister.
The late Bishop Sherwood Carthen of Bayside South Sacramento mentored Anfuso and set him on the path of racial reconciliation. That has begun with his community in Roseville, which some older African Americans still equate with its Ku Klux Klan history, Johnson said. Anfuso’s pitch to his white congregants: “As a white guy from the suburbs, I didn’t know African Americans wanted us to be on the march, but now I know they want us to be there.”
Another of his recruits, pastor Todd Wallace of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Arden Arcade, said City Pastors Fellowship has broken barriers between churches across race and class.
“I’ve pastored in Baltimore and Minneapolis and never seen anything like this – there are no personal conflicts, no egos, just pastors who want love and relate to each other for the good of the community,” Wallace said. “Sacramento is truly being recognized as a model for the nation.”