Words by S. E. Williams
Photos By Patrick Edgett
The Service Employees International Union issued a clarion call and on Monday hundreds of citizens came together at the San Bernardino County government center from all across Southern California to stand in unity and support of those killed and injured during the recent terrorist attack.
In an exclusive interview with The Voice, Michael Green, Los Angeles County Regional Director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was asked what inspired the vigil. “We represent a lot of members in Southern California, ninety-two thousand,” he explained. “We wanted to make sure we reached out not only to our members but to all of the Inland Empire Community to make sure they knew they were supported.”
Green also stressed how the event was organized by a community coalition that not only included labor; but, also faith-based organizations, grassroots groups, as well as the people who live in San Bernardino and are the fabric of the community. “We wanted to make a statement together,” he explained. “People who live and work in San Bernardino as well as many others that came by bus to show their support.”
Ten of the fourteen victims killed at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino last week were members of SEIU 721. Those lost included Robert Adams, 40, Yucaipa, Environmental Health Specialist I, SEIU 721; Bennetta Bet- Badal, 46, Rialto, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721; Harry Bowman, 46, Upland; Sierra S. Clayborn, 27, Moreno Valley, Environmental Health Specialist I, SEIU 721; Juan Espinoza, 50, Highland, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721; Isaac Amanios Gebreslassie, 60, Fontana, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721; Aurora Godoy, 26, San Jacinto; Shannon Johnson, 45, Los Angeles, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721; Daniel Larry Kaufman, 42, Rialto, worker at coffee shop in the IRC; Damian L. Meins, 58, Riverside, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721; Tin T. Nguyen, 31, Santa Ana, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721; Nicholas Thalasinos, 52, Colton, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721; Yvette A. Velasco, 27, Fontana, Environmental Health Specialist I, SEIU 721; and, Michael R. Wezel, 37, Lake Arrowhead, Supervising Environmental Health Specialist.
Sadly, SEIU members are not strangers to the inconceivable devastation of a mass terror attack. On September 11, 2001, 62 SEIU members were among those killed when hijacked airplanes descended like bombs into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
SEIU 721 represents county and city employees across Southern California including Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, a number of cities in the region, as well as employees of special districts and publicly-funded, non profits such as health clinics.
Although Green did not know any of the San Bernardino SEIU victims personally he explained, “We have staff in San Bernardino, in the Inland Empire, who knew some of the victims personally as did some of our organizers—they are in mourning as well. They talked to them every day and they are taking it hard,” he shared with compassion.
According to Green, his organization has extended other offers of support to the families of the victims, particularly, mental health counselors. Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties and State Mental Health Support Services and resources are also available.
In addition, the City of San Bernardino has set up a Go-Fund-Me page and Arrowhead United Way and the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors are collecting for impacted families at www.arrowheadunitedway.org. Readers can also donate by tweeting arrowheaduw or texting SBUNITED to 71777. Donations are also being accepted by mail. Checks can be made payable to SBUNITED and sent by mail to Arrowhead United Way, 646 North D Street, San Bernardino, CA 92401.
Politicians and those who are apolitical, SEIU officials and the people they represent all came to the candle light vigil Monday evening in a show of solidarity. They were joined by young professionals and retirees, grandparents, parents, college, high school and elementary-aged children—all stood with lighted candles in heart-broken unity. Music and speeches were received with an all around sense of sadness enfolded in the comfort of community and gently lifted with a sense of hope and optimism for better days.
“This is a tragedy that will not deter us from reaching for our dreams in America,” Green declared. “We will not be deterred. We want to make sure all the people know that San Bernardino and Southern California are united in one voice.”
During the interview, Green also expressed unsolicited appreciation for the cooperation received from California State Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown who represents the 47th Assembly District where the shooting occurred as well as other politicians and pastors who lent their support to the vigil.