Charlottesville vigils held in Niantic, Groton to spread message of peace

People participate in the candlelight vigil for the Charlottesville victims at McCook Point Park in Niantic Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
People participate in the candlelight vigil for the Charlottesville victims at McCook Point Park in Niantic Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

East Lyme — Community members stood together in a circle silently holding flickering candles at McCook Point Park on Wednesday evening in a vigil for the victims in Charlottesville, Va.

Clashes broke out there on Saturday after white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other far-right extremists assembled to protest the city's decision to remove a statue of a Confederate general, the Associated Press reported. A man plowed his vehicle into a group of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, and a helicopter crash connected with the event also claimed the lives of two state police officers.

Before five minutes of silence, speakers at the vigil addressed the crowd of about 150 people to send a message of peace and unity.

“We’re blessed to live in such a beautiful community, and this is something that I know has touched so many of us,” said Niantic resident Robin Soule, a vigil organizer. “There is just so much injustice right now and so much that is wrong, and I think by coming together in the spirit of peace and love and unity, lighting our candles, we can all raise our hearts and help spread awareness.”

The Rev. Alan Scott of Flanders Baptist and Community Church said a prayer asking God to strengthen what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature."

“We come from a lot of different backgrounds, we believe different things, we were raised different ways, but all of us live in this country, and if this country is going to thrive, and if this country is going to go forward well into the future, we have to find ways of getting along with each other,” he said.

Noting the turnout, First Selectman Mark Nickerson said people should be proud of their town and neighbors.

“This kind of hate can happen anywhere, if we’re not careful, so this is part of not only our healing process, but an insurance, if you will, to make sure it doesn’t happen here," he added.

He reminded those gathered at the vigil that they are all neighbors and all want the same things: peace, and happiness and wellness for their neighbors and families, and to raise children in a healthy community, which they have here.

Josh Kelly, a vigil organizer, remarked that most, if not all, of the attendees didn't know anyone who was in Charlottesville, but still came to the vigil.

"I hope you all take a moment to think about that, and that it means as much to you as it does to me," he said.

Soule spoke against prejudice and racism and encouraged people to spread the message and "try to make the world a better place."

Soule, her daughter Kate Eberle and Kelly organized the event, which also included collection of donations to benefit the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia.

Karen Thissell of Niantic said in an interview that she came to the vigil because her father fought in World War II and "he would be turning over in his grave if he knew what was going on today."

"A whole generation gave up much to get rid of this kind of hate, and to see it rising again, in America of all places," she said. "We talk about honoring our veterans, and the best way we can honor them is to remember what they sacrificed for."

Toni Chamberlin of Waterford said she felt calm to see people coming together for a good reason, rather than hatred or discontent, which she said seems to be the direction the country is going in. 

"I watch the news a lot since the election, and I am very fearful of where our country is going, and I wanted to be part of something that was peaceful and kind and show my support for the people who are suffering," she said. "I was thinking as I was standing here how calm I felt, and I haven’t felt that way in a very long time."

"It's not about politics, it's not about religion, it's not about skin color, it's about caring for other people," she added.

Also on Wednesday evening, Groton Congregational Church organized an interfaith prayer service and vigil to "Push Back Against Hate and Intolerance."

The event was scheduled to begin at 7:30 in the sanctuary, with spiritual leaders guiding people in conversation and prayer and trying to provide inspiration and comfort, Pastor Shawn R. Fisher said. Then, a candlelight vigil was scheduled to follow, with people lighting candles of hope outside and community members, including from the African-American, Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities, speaking about their experiences, feelings and how "we as a community can come together."

Pastor Fisher said organizers are hoping to provide a sense of comfort and direction for people, depending on what they need.

"We see Groton Congregational Church as not just a place for our own congregation, but as a resource for the community, and right now, particularly with the recent events in Charlottesville, we can feel a palpable sense of increased fear and concern in the world, and a church and the faith community should be a place where people can find hope in a time of fear and direction in a time of uncertainty," he said.

Courtney Dumais-Myers, a congregant and event organizer, said: "We're really just looking to have a sense of community and to push back against a lot of the hate, anger and oppression that we've seen come out of Charlottesville, and this is something that affects every one of us, whether we're part of the minorities that are being targeted, or we're just someone who has a voice and is able to speak up."

k.drelich@theday.com

People participate in the candlelight vigil for the Charlottesville victims at McCook Point Park in Niantic Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
People participate in the candlelight vigil for the Charlottesville victims at McCook Point Park in Niantic Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

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