Cleaning Up America One Bag at a Time

Posted by Vivian McNeil on

“So, this is my way of protesting”, said Tanisha Jackson of South Los Angeles.“I think this speaks louder than just going around yelling with a sign”, explained Stephanie Conde. Were these people at the peaceful demonstrations for Black Lives Matter? No sir. Their demonstrations were of a different nature. The language of building, fixing, and caring. All over America, citizens of all races and ages are working hard to bring unity, peace, and security back to a broken nation. 

The brutal killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer was the fire that stoked the embers of strife in our nation. The officer accused was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter but that was not enough to defuse the anger of protesters in cities all over the United States. Angry demonstrators burned cars, broke and looted stores leaving broken glass, garbage, and all types of debris. With people out of work, kids out of school and parks and playgrounds shut, this was the perfect storm for the disunity and violence that gripped our nation so suddenly last week. In New York City, blocks of high-end stores and regular department stores such as Macy’s Herald Square (an icon to tourists from all over the world) were looted and destroyed. Most of the youth involved in the looting could not have realized the terrible significance of the criminal destruction that they were instructed to carry out by the leaders that they were following. 

Los Angeles, California - Demonstrations of Hope 

On Friday, June 5, 2020, there was no shouting or sign holding on a site in South Los Angeles. Instead remarkable people from different communities came together with plastic trash bags, brooms, and rakes to clean up the streets where a tumultuous riot took place the prior evening. All along Western Avenue, trash and graffiti was being hauled while organizer Diamond Jones directed the way to rebuilding. 

Jones himself was not involved in the protest marches around Los Angeles in the past week and he wanted to inspire others to channel their frustrations about the Black civil rights issues, by giving back to the local black community. 

As these “demonstrators of hope” moved toward Manchester Avenue, they were greeted by endless cars honking in solidarity. Home and business owners waved from afar to show their utmost appreciation to these tireless volunteers. There was even a food truck parked nearby to feed the hungry heroes as they tossed bags of trash into the back of a waiting garbage truck. 

Atlanta, Georgia - Justice with Peace 

Peaceful black protesters were initially excited as they left what they thought was a peaceful demonstration in Atlanta only to hear later that Friday night protest erupted into dangerous and disastrous rioting. 

G.J. Hawkins and his wife, Shanna were two of those peaceful protesters who came back later to help clean up their devastated city. Several dozen volunteers gathered along with some hired help to clean up downtown Atlanta on Saturday morning following the Friday night clash that demonstrators had with the police. Local church members joined the Hawkins in cleaning and repairing their beloved city. Said Shanna Hawkins, “As we pursue justice it’s very important for us to do this with peace. That’s the only way we’re going to see real change.” 

Houston, Texas - Power Washers and Trash Bags to the Rescue

A compassionate truck driver, Brian Irving had just gotten ready to go to bed when he turned on the news Friday night and learned about the terrible destruction that was happening in downtown Houston, his hometown for over fifty years. The first thought that popped into Irving’s mind was John F. Kennedy’s most famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.” Then he went to work. For about four hours until 2 a.m. this amazing truck driver was out on the streets with his power washer, cleaning products and heavy duty garbage bags. As many other citizens, Irving understood the reason for the protests, but he could not fathom the destruction. 

Buffalo, New York - An Eighteen-Year-Old Three Time Winner 

What happens when a responsible citizen helps clean up his city for no reason other than goodwill? If he receives a reward does this lessen his intentions? This is what happened to New Yorker Antonio Gwynn Jr. 

Teenager Antonio Gwynn Jr. was rewarded with a car and car insurance when two good Samaritans heard about Gwynn’s heroic efforts to clean up his ravaged city of Buffalo. At two a.m. Monday, Gwynn, a high school senior, watched a newscast showing glass and trash throughout one of his neighborhood’s main streets. Grabbing a broom and trash bags, Gwynn ran outside and for ten hours single-handedly did most of the cleanup. By the time other members of his community showed up, they realized that Gwynn had cleaned up most of the mess. 

Matt Block, another astute community member could not get over this tremendous feat that Gwynn had accomplished all by himself. Block went to his computer and checked to see if Gwynn had a Facebook page. Sure enough, Block found what he was looking for and started reading. What kind of car would his friends recommend that he purchase? This was one of Gwynn’s recent posts. Matt Block happens to own a red 2004 Ford Mustang which he rarely drove. Instead of selling it, Block decided to give it away. 

Block sent a picture of the car to Gwynn. What Block did not know was that Gwynn’s mom had died two years before and she drove her own red Mustang. “The car he sent me a picture of was the same exact car that my mom owned. It’s the same color and everything!” 

The next amazing gift that Gwynn received was free car insurance for a year, from local insurance businessman, Bob Briceland. Meanwhile, Medaille College in Buffalo also heard of Gwynn’s service to his community and offered him entrance to the school this fall with a scholarship. Gwynn plans to major in business and study car mechanics. He wants to eventually open a car repair shop so he can help people with their car problems. 

Boston, Massachusetts - Event Planner Plans a Clean Up Party 

Originally, Sierra Rothberg was inspired by the national rallying and protesting to better America. However, by 6 a.m. Monday morning, Ms. Rothberg’s enthusiasm had changed to acute sadness. Ms. Rothberg woke to a shattered city. The places she loved in Boston, the graffitied walls of the State House and the broken glass and discarded signs littered on Boston Commons tall grass were grievous sights to see. Ms. Rothberg immediately sprang into action as she is a doer by nature. By 9 a.m. she was out on the sidewalk with her broom and small dustbin. By profession, Ms. Rothberg is an event planner. She immediately sent out a Facebook message and by early afternoon she had more than one hundred people joining her along with other people who had come to help independently. People who claimed they had fifteen minutes to spare ended up staying for three hours. One Johnny on the spot jumped out of his car carrying ten pizzas for lunch. So, Ms. Rothberg planned an impromptu party after all. 

All around the country organizers of clean up events want to impart a specific message. Businesses are struggling so much already with their forced closures during the pandemic. One of the motivations of clean up organizers is, “the fear that the protests would come to be defined by looting and vandalism”, says Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose, California. He handed out cleaning kits to volunteers and offered a short tutorial in cleanup and graffiti removal. The mayor’s cleaning kits included goo gone, rags, a bucket and paint scrapers. 

Justine Sandoval, the president of the Denver Young Democrats, said that clean up organizers are pointing out, “So many people were worried that the message was getting lost in the violence. They want to show up and say. These protests are important, but we’re going to be there to pick up the pieces afterward.”

The contrast to Gwynn and other awesome volunteers around the country and the looting criminals is compelling. The looters are being taught that they should take whatever they can from the stores whether they need it or not. Then they are advised to pawn or sell a pricey item online or just keep the item if it's practical, something for nothing. On the other hand, Antionio Gwynn Jr. and the other selfless volunteers expected nothing in return for their altruistic community service and ultimately Gwynn was rewarded for the hard work he did. Gwynn expected nothing and got everything. Wouldn’t it be better to teach our young people that hard work can bring rewards and destruction causes eventual punishment? It is such a pity that the looting was much more publicized than the cleanup. 

Our citizens are basically good and law abiding, and some say the leaders of these riots were from organizations from out of the cities themselves. Let us try to teach our young folk that hard work is a reward in itself and sometimes can even be the key to the future and cleaning up America.

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