As Valerie Shelby looked at a crowd of about 200 people in Greenport on Monday night, she asked the group to name flowers.
After several different flowers were called out, Ms. Shelby started listing each color.
“Don’t you see?” she asked. “Together, they make a beautiful bouquet. We have to stop fighting each other.”
Ms. Shelby and Loretta Hatzel-Geraci, both of the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force, organized Monday’s candlelight vigil to express solidarity with the victims killed June 17 at a church in Charleston, S.C.
The vigil started at the Clinton Memorial AME Zion Church, which hosted the event, and participants then walked to the nearby Third Street Park while singing “Let It Shine.”
Susan Dingle of Southold Town’s Anti-Bias Task Force, along with poet and community advocate Robert “Bubbie” Brown of Riverside, recited poems with messages of hope. Both Ms. Dingle and Mr. Brown represented Poetry Street, an open mic poetry session held at Blue Duck Bakery and Cafe in Riverhead.
Pam Swann, a member of the Clinton Memorial AME Zion Church and who has lived in Greenport for over 50 years, described Monday’s event as “wonderful.”
“It’s good to see everyone together,” she said. “It’s very special.”
After the crowd reached Third Street Park, hands were held while songs, poems and words of faith echoed throughout the village. At the end of the ceremony, candles were lit during prayers. [Scroll down for photos]
Dr. Carolyn Peabody of the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force and Suffolk County Human Rights Commission read the names of the victims and said the vigil provided an opportunity for local communities “to stand with the victims.”
“Their lives mattered,” she said. “To fight for equality, we have to stand together and that’s why we’re here.”
The Rev. Andrew Teagle of St. Paul’s AME Zion Church in Quogue said gatherings such as Monday night’s vigil are important because they address mourning and help bring justice and peace.
“These are times that are traumatic, troubling and sorrowful,” he said. “Our nation, all of us in our hearts and in our minds, must turn away from hatred, from demonstrations of terror and must turn away from the dehumanization of another human being.”
Town Justice William Price noted how the suspect accused of killing nine people at a Bible study session inside the church reportedly admitted he almost didn’t go through with the shooting because the pastor talked to him and started to get to know him.
“We can’t change everyone, but we can change the people we come in contact with,” Justice Price said. “We can let them get to know us and what our beliefs are. Our beliefs and their beliefs can differ, but it’s awfully hard to hurt someone that you know.”
Dan Durett, board president of First Universalist Church of Southold, described the challenges he’s faced as a black gay man and while several churches have burned since the shooting, some progress against inequality has been made, including the South Carolina governor’s decision to remove a Confederate flag from the state capitol building and the historic Supreme Court ruling Friday that established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage nationwide.
“We started this journey of hope saying ‘Yes we can,’” he said. “Now we have to say ‘No we won’t.”
“We won’t give into hatred,” he continued, as the crowd chanted “No we won’t!”
The Rev. Nathaniel Heyward, pastor at Clinton Memorial AME Zion Church, said after the event that he was pleased with the turnout and believes it was a good way to promote love throughout the community.
“It’s good to see people come together and try to support each other when an evil is running rampant,” he said. “It is our task to uncover evil. If we don’t do that, then we could become the next victim.”
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