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Participants in Norwich vigil asked to spread kindness, break chains of racism

Norwich — Ten red roses lay on a small table placed at the base of the city’s Public Art for Racial Justice Education mural Monday as a prayer vigil was held to remember the 10 Black people killed in a May 14 shooting at a Buffalo grocery store.

The vigil's organizer, city Alderman Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, said it can’t be said that there is no racism in Connecticut or in Norwich. But he and other speakers Monday stressed that the city is a welcoming community for all races, ethnicities and religions.

Singh, a leader in the local Sikh community, brought a framed poster from the Sikh Art Gallery he founded to the vigil. It read “Hate Has No Home Here,” written in several languages.

Brenda McDonald, representing the Bha’i community, a co-sponsor of the event, brought the roses to the vigil and said she would invite people to take them home afterward to remember the shooting victims.

“The first thing we need to understand is that there is only one race, the human race,” said the Rev. David Holland, pastor of the Cornerstone Church, also a vigil sponsor. “Caucasian, African, Asian, Indians and Jews are not different races. Rather, we are different nationalities and different ethnicities of the human race. We are all human beings with minor variations, of course. More importantly, we are created equally in the image and likeness of God.”

Holland urged the two dozen participants to pray that people be kind and compassionate toward one another and even to forgive the young shooter in the Buffalo attack.

In the May 14 attack, alleged shooter Payton S. Gendron, 18, of Conklin, N.Y., drove for three hours to reach the Tops Friendly Markets supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo. Police investigators said he had scoped out his target in advance of the shooting, livestreamed it on social media and had espoused racist sentiments.

“No real change will come about without close association, fellowship and friendship among diverse people,” McDonald said. “Diversity of color, nationality and culture enhance the human experience and should never be made a barrier to have these relationships, to friendships and to marriage.”

Singh asked for volunteers to come forward and read brief descriptions of the 10 people killed in the attack. Mayor Peter Nystrom began with Pearl Young, who had volunteered every Saturday morning at a food pantry for The Good Samaritan Church of God in Christ.

“It’s easy to take a person and ignore their value if you don’t know their name,” Nystrom said. “It should be the other way around. You shouldn’t have to know someone’s name to see their value.”

Alderman and legislative candidate Derell Wilson asked participants to place hands on another’s shoulder as he prayed aloud to ask God’s help to “come together as a community and make sure that we’re making the right decisions, that we’re showing our community what it’s like to beat and have rid of racism in the community.”

Local businessman and legislative candidate Robert Bell said in his family, his father hated Black people, and his mother hated Hispanics. Bell said he and his brother were first of their generation to break “that lie” in their family.

“This young man who did this unspeakable crime in Buffalo,” Bell said, “he learned that from somewhere. I understand that these get passed down from generation to generation. I’m living proof that that can be broken. That can be changed.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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