Waving Man Remembered By Riya Bhattacharjee

Friday March 24, 2006

Commuters driving by Martin Luther KIng, Jr. Way and Oregon on Wednesday morning had a chance to smile and wave again, this time not at one pair of hands but thirty. 

At exactly 7:45 a.m. members of Berkeley’s NAACP Youth & College Division and other residents celebrated the late Joseph M. Charles’ 96th birthday by donning bright yellow handgloves and carrying signs saying “have a nice day” and “keep smiling.” 

“A lot of drivers even stopped and shared Mr. Charles stories with us. Those who realized what we were up to broke into big smiles or honked back. It felt wonderful bringing back the cheer and goodwill into that little corner after almost 20 years, “ said Denisha DeLane, advisor to the youth division of NAACP and one of the event organizers. “I am overjoyed at the success of the event. Smiling is such a simple thing to do but so infectious. The moment people started rolling down their windows and saying ‘thank you’ I decided that I would have to do this every year.” 

DeLane added, however, that she did not want this to turn into a political event or to become a symbol for advocating political issues. “This is being done to build a happier neighborhood and to bring joy to the lives of people. He did it for us and we are doing it for him,” she said. 

Sara Bruckmeier, the Berkeley artist who painted Mr. Charles’ mural as part of the South Berkeley Shine mural project said that the event had helped put a lot of positive energy into the locale.  

Pamela Webster, who lives on Blake Street and was one of the first ones to join in the waving, said that a few ladies from the neighborhood were thinking of getting together and doing it on a regular basis. “I think it’s a great way to build neighborhood solidarity. It adds to the color of the place,” she said. l