Central High School student Dajeiona Vernor wanted to give her siblings hope when she decided to put on a candlelight vigil in honor of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality.
“I’ve got a bunch of little siblings,” the 17-year-old told the News-Leader before the vigil. “They’re kinda scared to come out the house. Hopefully, this gives them a little inspiration and they know not all people are bad, just certain ones.”
The vigil sparked interest on social media and hundreds of people showed up to Park Central Square on Sunday night to participate.
“I hadn’t seen anybody do a candlelight for (Floyd) and I thought, ‘Might as well,'” Vernor said. “Someone needs to.”
Vernor, who is black, said that she was pleasantly surprised to see the turnout to protests this past week in her hometown, specifically the 2,500 who marched Saturday.
“Most of the protests have worked; they’ve gotten people to listen and pay attention to what’s going on in the world, and it hopefully calms down afterwards,” she said.
While she hopes for a better future, Vernor said she will continue going to protests to show her support for change.
“We gotta keep going,” Vernor said. “Silence don’t get you nowhere.”
As people arrived, donations of baby’s-breath, carnations, roses and candles were passed out. Lanterns floated skyward. Members of the crowd helped light each other’s candles. People also distributed bottles of water and one was passing out disposable face masks.
Married couple J.R. and Kendra Chappell held lit candles, wax melting down the sides into paper cups as they waited for the vigil to commence.
J.R. Chappell, 63, said it was fantastic to see so many coming out, not just to the candlelight vigil, but to all the protests this past week.
“The racial problems that are in this country are just intractable,” he said. “It makes me really happy to see so many young people, so many people that appear in the middle class, supporting these efforts because we, as middle-class white people, have to say no. We have to stop it.”
Kendra Chappell, 58, continued.
“This is great support, but this will not amount to systemic change,” she said. “I really want to advocate for more voting, unity and more love in our beloved community.”
“White folks are going to have to step up,” she said. “It’s almost like a redemption. We are being called to this moment — I’m not talking church talk. I’m just talking we have inherited this. For us to be silent is hate.”
Activist Jordan Whitaker lead chants and facilitated the ceremony from speaker to speaker. Several gave personal testimony of their experiences with racism, learning about it and how they are moving forward.
Jamille Jones, with United Community Change, climbed the short wall along the fountain in the square to raise her voice alongside Whitaker’s.
“Let your voice be heard,” Jones said. “We are one community — we have to act like one.”
Jones led the crowd with her own chant.
“Everyone matters,” she shouted with the crowd repeating. “You matter. I matter. We matter. United we stand.”
At one point, some in the crowd sang snippets of “Do you hear the people sing?” from the musical “Les Misérables.” The vigil wrapped up after about two hours and ended with the crowd kneeling and observing a moment of silence.
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