“We Have Just Begun”

Candlelight vigil in Sylva, NC, June 24, 2015. Photo by Allen Lomax.

We are so encouraged by the crowd of caring people who joined us on a warm summer evening for a vigil to honor the nine souls lost in Charleston last week. That tragedy may seem far away from us here in Western North Carolina, but the gathering of about 100 residents at the fountain that night made an unmistakable statement: we feel the pain caused by racially motived violence, and there is no place for racism or hatred here in our communities. (continue reading after the video)

After a prayer by Reverend Porter Barringer of Liberty Baptist Church and the main address by Dr. Enrique Gómez, president of the Jackson County NC NAACP, branch members from Franklin–Selma Sparks and Dan Kowal–read short biographies of the members of Mother Emanuel AME Church who were killed.

We joined in a twenty-minute candlelit, silent vigil accompanied by the splashes of the faithful courthouse fountain and the contented playing of children–children whose future we want to be unmarred by hatred, children who are watching how we respond to hateful acts. Dr. Gómez stressed afterward that a vigil is not sufficient to address the racism and violence in our society. “We have just begun to overcome the legacy of centuries of slavery and racism. Each of us has an obligation to go back to our institutions, workplaces, friends and families and confront racism wherever it shows up.”

Leroy Jackson, who is chairman of the Legal Redress Committee of our branch, had this to say after the vigil: “I want to say how happy and maybe surprised I am to see so many people from my community come out. There was diversity and harmony in the atmosphere; so much caring about injustice and inequality—about being united against both. There was sure plenty of conversation going on!”

Let this be the beginning of many conversations, let us come together in times of work and fun as well as tragedy, and let us erase any doubt that Western North Carolina is united in standing against raicism.

Written by Lucy Christopher, Enrique Gómez, and Cassie Chambliss. Thanks to Avram Friedman for filming the event.