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Vigil strives to honor those who have died

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet staff
Saturday August 18, 2001

Some die on the streets, some in crack houses, some with a bullet to their heads. Their deaths might get a quick mention on the back pages of a newspaper. The stories of their lives, however – even at their funerals – are overshadowed with the dark clouds that surrounds what bluesman Masallah calls the “dubious circumstances” of their deaths. 

Still. These were flesh and blood people who were loved and may have contributed to their communities during much of their lives. 

“A person is a person – he’s still a human being,” said Tyrone Bailey, whose idea it was to hold a memorial at San Pablo Park on Friday. “We need to look at them, see what they’ve done positively. 

“It’s time to put aside the shame.” 

Bailey, better known as Mr. “T”, owns a limousine service and said he has brought many people to funerals over the years and seen in certain situations that “people are not really able to say their good-byes.” 

This then was that opportunity. 

Stanley Cotton was among those remembered with the lighting of a candle on Friday. “He’d police the street along Martin Luther King from Stuart to Adeline Street,” Bailey said. He would allow no one into the area selling drugs. “He kept the neighborhood safe.” 

And Jimmy Carter was first a merchant seaman, then he worked in anesthesiology. “Look at all the people he saved before he fell down on his knees,” Bailey said. 

Then there was Greg Lomac. Without his brother Bobby knowing it, he helped support him financially so that he could pursue his dream of becoming a musician, Masallah said. 

The group of some 30 people that gathered at San Pablo Park in southwest Berkeley knows what it’s like to be down. Most of them are clients at the Drop In Center on Adeline Street, which co-sponsored the event with Bailey. Many of them are homeless, substance abusers, and down and out. They came to pay tribute to friends and family who had died over the last year. 

“These are our loved ones. They passed on,” said Elder Timothy Fortt of the Ephesian Church of God in Christ, calling on the living to make better lives for themselves, to “leave a (proud) memorial.”  

Elder Fortt spoke to the gathering about getting beyond their problems – drugs, alcohol, criminal activities. 

He wasn’t looking down on those struggling with various problems. He had been among them – homeless, in and out of the penitentiary, a dope fiend, a thief. 

“There is a way out,” said the robust man, dressed in black ministerial clothes. “I cried out to God with a needle in my arm, sitting in a shooting gallery.” 

And then made his way back. 

There’s not just one path out, it happens differently for different people, he said. But it does happen. “We can have an up day.” 

And they did, eating barbecue, listening to Masallah’s blues and telling stories of those they will remember for a long time.