My manager reminded me to go. “You’ve made such a big deal about this – you had better show up yourself!” Nag. I didn’t need to remember, but that’s his job now. He leaves nothing to chance and I love him for it.
I went in and sat with the family near the front. I was a bit early so I opened up the humble pamphlet I had been handed by one of the ushers.
In Loving Memory of Epifanio Ramirez. Born November 7 1998 Modesto, California.
Entered into rest July 31, 2009 Modesto California
Service: Friday August 7, 2009 11:30 a.m. United Pentecostal Church Modesto California.
Minister Jeremiah Williams, Officiating.
Bearers: Jesus Suarez, Michael Lehyan, Timothy Ramirez and Michael Cervantes.
Interment St. Stanislaus Cemetery Modesto, California.
And on the opposing page, a new picture of Eppie. One I had not seen before. In it’s black and white simple brilliance you knew this was a good kid. A bright kid. You just knew this was not a kid that would follow the pack. This was a kid that would lead one in a positive way. And everyone that was there to listen to the testimony of those who knew and loved him knew this was true.
I craned my neck, constantly watching those that filled in. Almost a habit now from other funerals in which I would be threatened by possible retaliation from rival gangs. Not necessary today though, thanks to the Modesto Police Department’s vigilance in the parking lot and later at the burial, we were all safe and protected.
By the recognitions that shone across the faces of every single person entering, one could tell that each and every one of them were family and friends of Eppie. And there were some of Eppie’s teachers in attendance. But that was all.
Aside from myself and the minister, there was no one else from the community.
I looked up from the pamphlet and set my gaze upon a larger than life photo of Eppie splashed across a screen above the pulpit. In my mind I reminded myself that this was nothing new. Not for me. Nothing special. Not special for me. I had been down this road before. A road paved by funerals spawned of gang violence.
Not just in Modesto but in other cities throughout California. Sometimes sent by NAACP branches and sometimes sent by another referral.
Family counseling. The guy they send in when the minister can only address the spiritual side. I address the emotional. Always addressed the same way. I am someone to cry on. A memory to record screams with. Pre-recorded screams in my consciousness that I will listen to in the middle of many nights when the TV inadvertently shuts down.
I relive the families’ pain through my own nightmares.
And I am often a protector. Someone to call the police if necessary and sometimes even to scream at the police when they become intrusive. Not today. That has never been my experience in Modesto.
The differences today were far and few between, but still recognizable.
The sheer number of people was the first difference.
Families coming together that had been distanced for years was another difference and both of these were brought forth by a little boy laying before us in a virgin-white casket.
Jeremiah Williams officiated the ceremony with strength and spiritual leadership borne of love only in the way Jeremiah Williams himself could provide it. With the very resonance of his voice he immediately provided comfort to all who heard him. Like anesthetic to a wound we were immediately reassured of the everlasting and secure existence of Eppie.
He commanded us to put an end to gang violence. He reasoned with us the senselessness of the lifeless body before us – “Our children are losing their lives! And for What?! A color! A turf! A hood! A hood where they are even behind on the rent!”
Preaching to the choir he was. He didn’t need to tell anyone there today that the gang violence must stop. That we must come together and love each other. That was already happening thanks to Eppie himself. Miracles were happening between individuals right before my very eyes.
Through my tear stained eyes it was whom I did not see that infuriated me. I did not see any of the City Council. I did not see the La Loma Neighborhood Association. An organization that preaches the betterment of the neighborhood for its residents. Obviously some residents are deemed more worthy of their support than others.
Neither did I see my opponents that are running for the City Council seat in the same district that I am. Where is their concern? Perhaps this child fell into what one of them have already categorized as “the other side of the tracks”.
Perhaps they were afraid of suffering some of the wrath that I received when I first began to promote the fundraiser to pay for these services and burial. Perhaps they feared that they too would be accused of pandering for the “sympathy vote”.
Pretty weak. But very telling of where their priorities lay – only within themselves and what they feel they can or cannot gain to further their glitter conscious reputations.
Just like Jeremiah Williams said at one point in the service – “We must talk about these things. We must address this. The killing must stop.”
Eppie’s family, friends and teachers – they already have. They had no choice.
No one else stepped up. What a shame. What a shame. A little boy in death did more for this family than an entire community would even care to do - simply love them as our neighbors. What a shame that it would have to take something like this. And this wonderful family is still ignored. If not shunned.
Shame on all of you that call yourselves community leaders. Where are you when your community needs you most? Where were you today? Do you really think you do not owe your neighbors a mere hour or so of compassion?
Going along to get along? And for what? For the same reason our children are dying? A Color? Perhaps your color is the color of money.
Eppie’s color is not red or blue, or even green. Virgin White is the color of the child’s casket I saw lowered into the earth today.
What color will be the next casket? And the one after that. And the one after that. And the one after that. How many more?
I had hoped to see leadership today. All I saw was the price of going along to get along laying inside a little casket. How many more?
Copyright 2009 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.