Native American Walk for Sobriety unites the community

Mike Kinney (left holding sign) leads the 5th Annual Native American Walk for Sobriety through Richmond on July 20, 2019.

It’s officially called the Indigenous People’s Walk for Sobriety. But the hundreds of walkers who came out Saturday – along with the countless honks of horns in support from passing cars – displayed a diverse community marching together as one, fighting the all-too-common battle against alcoholism.

For the first time this year, the 5th Annual Walk for Sobriety, organized by the California chapter of the United Urban Warrior Movement, featured two separate marches through Richmond. One of the marches, which began from the parking lot of the Grocery Outlet at the intersection of San Pablo and Macdonald avenues, featured local and visiting Native Americans and community supporters, led by longtime Richmond native Mike Kinney.

The other march, beginning from Veteran’s Memorial Hall on 23rd Street, featured members of the local Latino community led by community advocate Diego Garcia, owner of Leftside Printing.

The two marches met briefly at Richmond Civic Center before walking in unison to St. Luke’s Methodist Church at 3200 Barrett Ave.

While Garcia has participated in past walks, this was the first time a Latino contingent joined.

“The Native Americans put this together to raise awareness in their community,” Garcia said. “But what I see in our Latino community is that we have this disease, too, that’s going to continue to destroy lives if we don’t do more about it.”

Not just the Latinos. All corners of the community were represented Saturday, including Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia and Uche Uwahemu, senior field representative for California State Assembly Member Buffy Wicks, who presented the United Urban Warrior Movement-California Chapter with a certificate of recognition for the successful event.

Alcohol isn’t just a problem for Native Americans. It’s a Richmond problem, said Mayor Butt.

“Richmond has the highest number of alcohol retail outlets in Contra Costa County,” the mayor said. “Fifty-eight percent of refrigerator space in Richmond’s liquor stores is occupied by single serve alcoholic beverages, which are of particular concern due to their high alcohol content and low cost.”

The good news, added the mayor, is that Richmond also has a high percentage of residents who care about each other, and want to support those in need of sobriety.

“This is a continuing struggle,” Gioia said. “The march does continue, with what we’re doing, whether it’s about civil rights, whether we’re coming together as a community and fighting substance abuse and alcohol abuse. And most importantly it’s about supporting each other.”

Also attending the march was nationally-known California Native activist-advocate Connie Reitman, along with Ben Therriault, president of the Richmond Police Officers Association.

“This is an important event and an important topic,” Therriault said. “It’s important that we celebrate those who can get past it. To support people who have been able to overcome addiction.”

That been the case for two longtime participants of the Walk to Sobriety, including Danny Smith, 52, of Richmond, who has been sober for 26 years, and Clinton Chrisman, 62, of Wilton, Calif., who has been sober since moving from Arizona in 1989.

“We’re trying to pass the message along: you can change, you can become a red wolf warrior,” Chrisman said.

Added Smith, “The young ones coming up, we need to let them know there’s a better way. They don’t have to do what I did. That’s why we come together. To spread that message.”