By Kathryn McKenzie
If you have ever attended any community or public events around the area, no doubt you saw citizen journalist and activist Ezzard “Dread” McCall in action. The man in dreadlocks seemed to be everywhere, shooting photos and video at everything from city council meetings to protests.
And because McCall was such a familiar figure in so many places, it was no wonder that people ranging from politicians to community organizers were shocked and saddened by the news of his sudden death this past Saturday.
Comments on social media came from a wide range of residents, from local politicians to BLM activists to artists who knew McCall. Filmmaker Michael Houston, who got to know McCall from Houston’s project “Voices of the Street,” wrote on Facebook that McCall “dedicated his last years to community photojournalism for social justice. He was relentless in documenting community issues in covering public meetings and demonstrations for social justice. His incisiveness in analyzing the issues and blend of good humor and dedication makes him one of the finest Monterey citizens of our times.”
McCall, 65, took it upon himself to eyeball important meetings and events for posterity. He and Wes White, who came together a few years ago as advocates for the homeless community in Salinas, worked as a team of citizen journalists, often posting video on YouTube.
“They were going to kick us out of Chinatown,” White said, recalling the scuffles between the city and the homeless community in 2016. They documented these events, including protests at City Hall. After that, he said, he and McCall began going to a wide variety of community and government meetings to report on them.
A heart attack is suspected, but a cause of death is not yet known, White said. He got a call early Saturday morning saying that McCall had had trouble breathing and had been taken to Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital.
White had seen his friend just the night before, when they shared a takeout meal of Chinese food. McCall told him, “OK, see you tomorrow.” Said White, “The last time I saw him, he was smiling.”
Ezzard Charles McCall came to Salinas as a youth, where his mother did her best to make a life for her children, eventually working for the county for many years. McCall graduated from North Salinas High, where he played football and was on the wrestling team, White said, and later attended Hartnell College.
After high school graduation in the early 1970s, he joined the Marines and went to Vietnam, where he developed his photography skills.
McCall is remembered for his love of reggae, his commitment to Rastafarian philosophy, and his gentle manner with everyone he met. On a Zoom call Wednesday, his friends reminisced about McCall and what he brought to their lives.
His great-nephew, Robert Daniels, recalled McCall’s steadfastness: “He was always a great compass. He would always give you a little piece of advice to help you on your way.” His friend Azi Fedoui bonded with McCall over their mutual love of reggae, way back when McCall would hand out flyers for concerts and Fedoui would talk to him about their favorite performers and how to get in to see them.
Pamela Weston, with whom McCall and White worked to organize a homeless union, said, “We became like the Three Musketeers,” and praised his civic engagement and leadership. “Dread was a brother and a comrade. He lived what Rasta is — One Love … he’s a mirror, a warrior, an ambassador.”
Erin Peck of the Chinatown Learning Community Center in Salinas saw McCall every Friday when he would come for the regular homeless union meeting. “He was never judgmental toward anyone,” she said. “He saw the way things operated on a larger scale … he would see the truth that other people weren’t able to see.”
Weston noted that “he took on a lot of projects,” taking photos for a variety of community events that ranged from First Night Monterey to the Salinas bicycling festival Ciclóvia. “He just had a really big heart,” she said.
McCall worked with the National Union for the Homeless as well as the California Homeless Union Statewide Organizing Council, according to Daniels.
With their grief still so fresh, there has not yet been time or energy to organize a memorial service, but White said that is in the works. A Go Fund Me campaign was set up by Daniels to defray McCall’s funeral expenses. Contributions can be made here.
Local activists are also lobbying to name a new regional homeless shelter in his memory. Supporters are asked to add his name to the public naming effort, which can be found here.
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