San Jose group still striving for peace and justice after 65 years

You may not know the San Jose Center for Peace and Justice by name. But if you’ve driven past the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Main Library in the past 20 years, you’ve probably seen their volunteers holding signs and asking drivers to “Honk for Peace.”

Joan Simon, one of the Peace Center’s volunteer leaders, says weekly demonstrations bring awareness to its mission — and while they’ve gotten a few jeers over the years, most people are supportive as they go by. On Sept. 23, the Peace Center is hoping to draw a larger than normal crowd for its one-hour vigil to end all wars — and not just conflicts between nations, but wars on women or the poor, too. Expect a lot of honking.

“Being quiet could be peaceful,” Simon said, “but there needs to be justice as well.”

The Peace Center has been working toward both goals since 1957, when it was founded by Barby Ulmer and Dorothy Goble, members of the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, along with the Rev. George “Shorty” Collins from Grace Baptist Church. Back then, the issue of the day was nuclear war and testing.  And as the decades have passed, the Peace Center has fought against the Vietnam War, U.S. involvement in Central America, the first Gulf War in 1990 and the ongoing war on terror.

Charlotte Casey, left, and Joan Simon stand outside Collins House, the headquarters of the San Jose Center for Peace and Justice. To their left is one of two “peace poles” donated by the City of San Jose to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group) 

Today, it faces housing, single-payer healthcare and finding a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine. In June, Assemblyman Ash Kalra honored the Peace Center as the Nonprofit of the Year for his district.

On Sept. 25, it will host a 65th anniversary celebration in the back lot of the Collins House, a converted 1908 home at 48 S. Seventh St. that has served as its headquarters since 1985. The open house, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., in some ways will serve as the start of a new chapter for the organization, which is online at www.sanjosepeace.org.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it closed the house to meetings and events, though it remained open to some outside mutual aid organizations like the Unhoused Resource Group to store supplies. Volunteers kept stocking the Peace Pantry — like a Little Free Library in the house’s front yard filled with vegetables and canned goods. Work also was started on the Garden Project in the back lot, which included the painting of murals by community members led by Stories for Solidarity.

And in May, Michele Mashburn left the Peace Center after serving as its director for nearly six years. Since then, activities have been coordinated by a group including Simon, Donna Dillard, Jeff Lake, Karla Henriquez, Jenna Perez and RJ Ramsey.

Charlotte Casey, another volunteer who has been involved with the Peace Center since 2001, would like to see involvement more in line with the center’s heyday. when its newsletter — the Peace Times — had 5,000 subscribers and was a force in rallying people to march for civil rights. Getting back to that means involving  more young people as volunteers or interns.

“We’d like to have that level of activism again,” Casey said.

BUILDING BETTER SMILES: The Santa Clara County Dental Foundation wants to put a better smile on the faces of a lot of people and improve the community’s health while they’re at it. The group has launched a fundraising campaign for Silicon Valley Healthy Smiles, a large-scale, two-day dental clinic it would like to host in San Jose where volunteer dentists will provide $2 million of dental care to more than 1,800 people.

Dr. John M. Pisacane, who is vice president of the foundation and has a practice in Willow Glen, said the California Dental Association Foundation brought an event like this to San Jose in 2013, and the Santa Clara County group wants to launch its own starting next May. The health benefits are undeniable as dental issues often create other problems like missing school or work and poor dental hygiene can lead to social stigma, too.

The goal of Silicon Valley Healthy Smiles isn’t to just give everyone a check-up and send them on their way with dental floss and a toothbrush, either. Pisacane said the volunteer dentists will provide cleanings, fillings, extractions, dentures and assistance in finding a long-term dentist.

While the foundation is receiving outside support for the effort, it is raising $400,000 to support the Silicon Valley Healthy Smiles, which it hopes to make an annual event. You can find out more or donate at www.sccdf.org.

ONE LAST TIME: It’s been nearly eight years since San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo was inaugurated in 2015 at the Center for the Performing Arts, and on Sept. 22 he’ll deliver his last State of the City address at the California Theatre in downtown San Jose.

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