July 11th, 2013
It was a typically sunny March morning in Glendale, California, the third largest community in greater Los Angeles at the eastern end of the San Fernando Valley. People showed up early, coffee in hand, and chatted in a long, meandering line outside the civic center’s door. The community center hadn’t opened, but these California citizens were eager to see the latest in firearms at the annual Glendale Gun Show – a community tradition for almost twenty years.
But the people in line weren’t simply chatting about the weather, the latest Rugers, or affordable ammunition. Less than three months earlier, a man had walked into the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut and massacred twenty children. By the time the gun show rolled around, the country was engulfed in heated rhetoric about the second amendment. This national debate got “local” when a Glendale city councilman proposed an ordinance to ban gun shows on city owned property.
That morning, the gun enthusiasts were greeted by anti-gun protesters wearing “Occupy Pasadena” tee shirts who had also gathered with signs, banners, and a great deal of passion. One sign read, “End Gun Shows on Public Property,” and another read “Guns Destroy Freedom.” One gun show opponent said, “We’re selling ammo by the truckload across the street from a community college and hoping for the best. How many schools shootings is it going to take for common sense to prevail?” Though there were just a few of them – around fifteen – they were causing quite a stir on the street. News cameras came to document any tension and drivers passing by some times honked support.
But not all passersby were supportive. Some rolled down their windows and yelled at the protesters: “Go home!” Also, there was a more organized counter-protest. The founder of the South Central LA TEA Party, Rev. Jesse Peterson was one of the people sick and tired of the constant governmental attack on California gun enthusiasts. As he watched the controversy develop in the days leading up to the event, he hastily called and e-mailed his friends, and – most effective of all – announced the counter-protest on his radio show, Jesse Lee Peterson Radio Show.
To his delight, about a hundred of his protesters showed up around noon that day, carrying signs with very different messages: “Gun Control Worked for Stalin, Hitler, and Mao,” “South Central L.A. TEA Party Supports Gun Owners,” and “Keep America Free.” It didn’t take long for the two sets of protesters to meet.
“I can’t believe you are participating in this! You’ve sold out!” one protester said to Jesse Peterson, who is black. “You’re getting paid to do this!” In fact, the anti-gun demonstrators seemed incensed that the TEA party group was filled with minorities.
“It angered the liberals to see us, because they want to give the impression that the tea party movement is about race. They came over trying to yell at us, and the cops made them go back… they didn’t want a fight right there on the street.”
Peterson, used to being singled out because of his race, addressed the crowd like he’s done on many occasions before. This time, however, was different. As he looked over the crowd, he saw many different ethnicities of people: blacks, whites, Hispanics, and even a group of Asian tourists who stopped by after seeing the commotion. He was filled with pride.
“The liberals couldn’t stand seeing our crowd,” he said. “We broke the stereotype they were trying to promote.”
In fact, breaking stereotypes is a big part of Peterson’s outreach to his community.
Born in 1949 in Alabama, he grew up in the shadow of slavery. Raised on a former plantation where his great-grandparents worked as slaves and where his grandfather managed the farm. Even though his great-grandfather had been murdered by a white mob, Peterson was not taught to hate white people. “Not once did I hear them blame white folks or say that it was because we were black,” he told Andrew Klavin of City Journal. “They understood that it was wrong, but they understood that it was a moral issue, it was a spiritual issue. And so they taught us not to hate.”
When Peterson moved to California after high school, he got indoctrinated by the sixties culture that set blacks against whites. He frequently gathered around the radio with his friend to hear the words of Nation of Islam preacher Louis Farrakhan. This “made me feel good to be black” and “caused me to hate the white people around me,” he wrote in his memoir. By the time he was in his thirties, he was “a sullen, furious, and racist black man.”
In California, he learned how to work the welfare system. He claimed to be a drug addict and began receiving $300 a month, rent, and food stamps from the government. Then, he didn’t have to work odd jobs. Suddenly, he had more time on his hands, so he turned to actual drug use and sex. “I descended into a pit of irresponsibility and laziness. It nearly destroyed me,” he said.
One day, Peterson heard British Christian Roy Masters suggest praying to God for guidance. Eventually, this led Peterson to confront his anger against whites, to understand his story outside of his skin color, and repent of his racism. In February of 1990, he fought back against the racial narrative that had seduced him by founding a non-profit organization called the Brotherhood Organization of A New Destiny, or BOND. Its motto reflects his spiritual transformation: “Rebuilding the Family By Rebuilding the Man.”
But Peterson also experienced a political transformation. After becoming aware of the Tea Party before the 2010 elections, he realized the pro-freedom, limited-government, patriotic, Constitutional message of the Tea Party was not reaching the inner cities. He started the South Central LA Tea Party (SCLATP), which was immediately attacked by self-appointed liberal black leaders like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and the NAACP. The SCLATP, however, allowed him to take the message directly to the people, so he dedicated himself to “educating, motivating, and rallying Americans to greater involvement in the moral, cultural and political issues that threaten our great country.”
Of course, his work with the SCLATP eventually led him to the Glendale Civic Center, where people were yelling at him for “selling out.” But Peterson is not easily deterred.
“What I do is educate the blacks and Hispanics about what the tea party movement is about – freedom, small government, God, country, the constitution and less taxes. They have been given the impression by the media that the tea party is racist organization, so we educate them about what we’re actually about.”
So how has he fared in the not-so-conservative Los Angeles area?
“When we first started, we faced a lot of challenges. People were hostile and angry about the movement, but I stayed patient. I just explained that I see things differently. Gradually, more people began participating in events like rallies.”
But his biggest successes have occurred in people’s hearts and mind. “Some are starting to challenge the Democratic leaders now that they see that what they’ve been told isn’t necessarily true. If you could change one person’s mind in the minority community, it’s a big deal. You take the first step. It’s a beginning. They will influence someone else, and so on and so on.”
It is said that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” As the TEA party begins the long struggle to break the Democratic vice grip on the minority vote, Peterson’s diverse counter-protest outside the civic center in Glendale, California should be recorded as important steps, indeed.
For more information about The South Central L.A. TEA Party, click here.
For more information about BOND, click here.