Pilgrim Place residents vow that ‘Black Lives Matter’

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Anyone who has been in Claremont for a few years has no doubt seen the group of older folks, some with walkers, standing and holding signs at the intersection of Arrow Highway and Indian Hill Boulevard.

Those people are, for the most part, residents of Pilgrim Place and advocating for peace and justice is part of their DNA. So, it should come as no surprise that residents of the retirement community have come together to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Pilgrim Place has been on voluntary lockdown since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. This means that while they can no longer gather on the corner for peace protests, their spirit remains just as strong.

On August 13 a handful of Pilgrim Place residents gathered out in front of Porter Hall, the community’s central meeting place, to proclaim their collective commitment to racial justice and to formally raise a Black Lives Matter flag.

The event was emceed by Bill Dodge who introduced the speakers and gave a brief history of BLM.

Retired educator and civil rights activist Louilyn Hargett spoke first.

“Black lives matter, and I am here today, this morning, because Black women’s lives matter. I am here at Pilgrim Place because my life has always mattered,” she said.

After 246 years of slavery and another 100 years of Black people living as second class citizens, enough was enough. “I want to say never again and even the words no more,” she said.

Ms. Hargett spoke of her husband James Hargett’s illness and how her 63-year-old son Darryl temporarily moved in to help care for his father. She described feeling anxious whenever her son was out driving for Uber, “I began feeling some suppressed emotions about his safety,” she said. “While he was out at night I did not sleep nor did I rest until I heard his key unlock the door.

“The Black Lives Matter flag raising today, to fly with the United States of America and the United Nations flags, leaves no question and no doubt about Pilgrim Place and its stand for justice. For without justice there is no peace,” Ms. Hargett said.

In his powerful remarks, Pilgrim Place CEO Ron Bolding began by quoting the Declaration of Independence, referring back on several occasions to one particular and familiar line: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” (Although as he read the quote he inserted “and women” in the appropriate spot.)

“We live in a great nation, one with aspirations to these self evident truths, but with a history and a legacy of brutality and injustice for some,” Mr. Bolding said.

Mr. Bolding said he stands in solidarity with the Pilgrim Place community as they raised the Black Lives Matter flag, while giving a nod to the familiar advice from Senator John Lewis, who died last month.

“Yes, all lives matter, but what we are talking about right now is Black lives matter. They matter in the context of ‘all are created equal’ by that God that has governed us all. And if we are to be a nation that honors all its people with liberty and justice for all, then we have got to be ready to engage in good trouble. Because absent that, we won’t be a nation at all,” Mr. Bolding said.

Mark Claiborne, director of dining services at Pilgrim Place, related his thoughts and emotions as protests spread around the country, and the world, following the killing of George Floyd, and perhaps some optimism that this is the time that society will confront police brutality.

“I remember thinking that maybe, maybe, what I am watching on television is somehow emblematic of a deeply rooted, deeply seeded bias in our communities that can’t be ignored,” Mr. Claiborne said.

“We pray o’ God that this flag will be a witness to Claremont and the world that we at Pilgrim Place believe in its message and will endeavor without pause toward the day when all are proclaimed equal and value all human life. Until that day let us never forget that Black lives matter,” Cynthia Chertos said in her prayer of dedication.

Following the prayer, and as the rest of the Pilgrims watched, Mr. Bolding assisted raising the flag above Porter Hall.

Retired United Church of Christ clergy and community organizer, Karl Hilgert asked that the flag be paused at half staff for “a silent moment of solidarity with, and condolence thoughts for, all individuals and families who have lost their loved ones at the hands of officers of the law.”

The Pilgrims also issued a “Testament of Support for Black Lives Matter” that was signed by 87 residents and appears as an advertisement in this edition of the COURIER.

On Wednesday, Mr. Hilgert said that the Pilgrims will continue to support racial justice individually by signing a petition, donating to Black Lives Matter through the Pilgrim Place justice fund, and contributing to the NAACP Pomona Chapter.

Collaboratively the Pilgrims continue with the weekly peace protests Friday afternoons, but currently do so under the very flagpole where the BLM flag now flies. The gatherings are limited to 10 people because of the coronavirus and only last for half an hour; however, a handful of members stand on the corner of Berkeley and Harrison avenues waving their signs at passing motorists.

The Pilgrims are also working through national and global ministries of United Church of Christ to publicize their stance on Black Lives Matter to a larger audience with the hope of increasing the diversity of Pilgrim Place itself by attracting more people of color to retire there.

Mr. Hilgert is not letting the pandemic slow him down, even though he did promise his wife not to take on too much.

“I’ve made a commitment to civil disobedience,” he said. “I’m still trying to hang in there and do what I can from a chair.”

To view the half-hour-long BLM flag dedication, go to Pilgrim Place’s official Vimeo channel: https://vimeo.com/447744147

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