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Forum spotlights personal run ins with racism
Pastor Cynthia Jackson of the Transformed Through Hope Ministries was among the distinguished panel of speakers sharing her thoughts.

Paul Johnson is a longtime coach for the Manteca Cowboys youth football team.

At 6-foot-4, he still has the physique of his playing days at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. But he believes police often see him differently.

Several times during a three-year span some time ago, Johnson recalled at Thursday's Listen Forum 2020 at the Christian Worship Center police officers holding him at bay with their guns drawn.

"I was looking down the barrel of a gun because I'm Black," he said to the diverse group consisting of other local religious leaders along with Manteca police — Lt. Stephen Schluer and Officer Mike Kelly — and Josh Harder, D-Turlock, representing the 10th Congressional District.

Johnson, who was in his car during a police stop, kept both hands on the wheel in fear of his life. "I thought: how will I get home (safely) to my wife and my kids," he said.

Johnson, who was also an assistant football coach at Weston Ranch and East Union,  grew up in Mobile, Alabama and witnessed racial injustice at its worse, including a lynching at a young age.

"It was traumatic growing up in the South and seeing a man dying while being hung on a tree," he said.

Johnson along with Pastor Mark Slay, Pastor Cynthia Jackson and Pastor Jerry Johnson were part of the distinguished panel assembled by Bishop Steve Perea of the Christian Worship Center.

The objective of the Listening Forum, according CWC Assistant Pastor Sherri Shiozawa, was "how can we be part of the solution and foster healing," she said, following the turbulent events of the past few days following the death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis police.

"Our one purpose is just to hear," Perea said.

All were supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement but were strongly against the looting, rioting and "over 300 attacks in the last three days," said Perea.
"All of this has taken away from the message of Floyd's death," Slay said.

Earlier in the week, he took time to listen to his African American friends on BLM. "That one hour turned out to be 2½ hours — we all had a story," Perea said.

Pastor Slay had a childhood friend who was shot and killed by Stockton police.

Pastor Cynthia Jackson, who is the Senior Leader of the Transformed Through Hope Ministries in Manteca, worries about the safety of her husband and sons because "they fit the profile," she said.

Pastor Johnson, 63, lived during the turbulent 1960s, in particular, the riots in Los Angeles. "I was 10 years old and couldn't understand why," he said.

Perea looked back at the situation of the world in an unprecedented time.

"We have the (COVID-19) pandemic and were on shutdown for the last 12 weeks with over 40 million people unemployed only to see our world turned upside down even further," he said, referencing Floyd's shocking death and the ensuing demonstrations.

Perea added: "I refuse to believe his death was in vain."

As for Black Lives Matter.

"Ultimately, we do believe all lives matter but some people have decided that black lives don't matter — All Lives Matter changes the narrative," said Jackson, who hopes that the City of Manteca, in moving forward, would put together an advisory committee.

Harder, meanwhile, remembered a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

"The Constitution of our country is a promissory note of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That debt has not been paid," he said.

Schluer echoed his thoughts from a few days ago during the peaceful BLM rally in Manteca organized by Sharon Washington-Barnes.

"I was bothered by the other police officers (caught on video as one pressed a knee on the neck of George Floyd) who stood there and did nothing," he said,

He and Kelly, who is a Community Resource Officer — he often works with the homeless in the community -- believe in weeding out the bad police via background investigations and other means. 

"We need to be part of the solution with an open dialogue and narrative," said Schluer, who continues to be active in the community, serving on the Manteca Unified school board and helping out in youth sports.

Attendance to Listen Forum 2020 was kept down to an audience of small numbers practicing social distancing with the event being live streamed on social media.