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People urged to stop buying into labels
Manteca youth, from left, Hugo Gutierrez, Aaleiyah Battle, and Anmol Singh read the poem “I Wish for Peace” during Friday’s International Peace Day observation at the Manteca Transit Center. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

 Juanaki Battle made it clear.

“I am not black. That’s what the world calls me.”

Battle — one of the speakers during Friday’s third annual Manteca observation of the International Day of Peace — borrowed from an essay to point out labeling people tends to always end up as an “us versus them” thing.

“It’s the labels,” Battle told the 100 in attendance that are the biggest impediments to peace. “We must rip them off.”

The tone at the gathering of people from various faiths arranged by Manteca Interfaith Community Appeal (MICA) was simple — all of us in Manteca are family regardless of race, color, or creed.

Battle stressed if you get people to see that by removing the labels those three concepts impose on people and you have the key to start chopping away at violence.

Mayor Steve DeBrum referenced with dismay the tone and words that many — including young people — use today.

“As a young child I was told that skin color doesn’t matter as we are all God’s children,” he said.

DeBrum related how he had friends growing up who — like him — didn’t care if they were African Americans, Hispanic, Caucasian, Native American or whatever ethnic or racial label may have been attached to them.

“Put children on a playground and it is like glue,” the mayor said. “(They) are all going to come together.”

Councilman Gary Singh referenced how he was perceived as “different” because he was often viewed by the label of being a Punjabi American and not simply being just another kid growing up in Manteca.

Singh was among those who helped organize Manteca’s peace march that drew more than 500 people to Greystone Park last month after a frail 71-year-old Sikh man who had suffered a debilitating heart attack and stroke seven years ago was attacked and repeatedly kicked by an 18-year-old assailant while he was out for his morning walk.

Singh said when he first saw surveillance video of the attack it sickened him so much he had to turn his head away.

He then asked himself whether he should be angry at those responsible for the vicious attack. 

But then told himself he’d end up being no different than those who either in anger based on labels and what they’d had drummed into them or absorbed as to what labels mean to those that judge people by blanket labels people place on others.

“Spreading anger,” Singh said, is not the answer to counter violence.

In the ensuring days after the attack he had numerous people step up and ask not only how the elderly gentleman was doing but to offer to walk with him when he was ready to return to his daily four lap walk around the park so that he’d feel safe.

It was then that he decided a positive had to come out of an evil act.

And positive it was. More than 500 people representing the spectrum that makes up Manteca turned out on a Sunday evening to walk four laps with Sahib Singh around the park with the laps representing peace, humanity, unity, and respect — four of the driving forces for MICA.

Saima Uz-Zaman, in reading a poetry selection, built on Singh’s comments noting “we owe each other not to judge without knowing (each other).”

Jason Laughlin — on hand to present a resolution from Assemblyman Heath Flora lauding the efforts of MICA — lauded those in attendance for working to “accept other people for what they are.”

He shared family history to illustrate how virtually everyone — if not touched today by those judging them by how they are labeled — are descendants of those that were. In his case society as a whole looked down on the marriage of his grandparents — one was Lebanese and the other Filipino.

And Mohammed ElFarra told those gathered that Mister Rogers knew a thing or two about how to achieve peace.

“We all grew up listening to Mister Rogers,” ElFarra shared with those in attendance of the MICA event at the Manteca Transit Station.

ElFarra shared several quotes from Fred Rogers whose half-hour educational children’s television series Mr. Rogers aired for 33 years.

Included is one Rogers quote ElFarra considered as wise words to follow in the pursuit of peace and better understanding: “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. it is easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

MICA is comprised of St. Paul’s United Methodist church, Transformed through Hope Ministries, The Sikh Community, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Islamic Center of Manteca.

Friday marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations that established an International Peace Day observance every year on Sept. 21. Peace Day is designed to provide a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to peace above all differences and to contribute to building a “Culture of Peace”.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email