I knew it would be different from the last Black Lives Matter Vigil I had attended. For one thing, it would be on the outskirts of the Mall, rather than on Route 175 by St. John Baptist Church. And it was still light out, unlike that December night in 2014.
And then, this notice:
Tomorrow's Black Lives Matter vigil will be a little different in light of this week's racist attacks on Howard County students. We will center the students' voices and bear witness to their experiences. We will denounce these hateful acts, and offer safety, support, and love. Bring chairs and be ready to show the students that we love, respect, and believe them.
That didn't sound at all like what I was expecting. It sounded like it might be awkward or uncomfortable.
I went anyway. I couldn't stay away. Sitting at home and doing nothing while students were faced with racist, violent hate speech in our community suddenly loomed large in my mind, like a hateful act. Like collusion.
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. (Attributed to D, Bonhoeffer)
It's mind-boggling to me that these things are happening and the Superintendent hasn't held a press conference and made a very clear statement using the words that are necessary: racist, hate speech, violence, violent threats, criminal behavior. Where is a renewed promise to make schools safe and welcoming for students of color who have been threatened and demeaned? Where is an affirmation to parents that "your children are precious to us. We believe in them and in their futures. We will take swift and decisive action action against anyone who makes our schools an unsafe place."
Statements released to date by the school system have no more moral conviction than Christopher Robin walking back and forth with an umbrella, saying, "Tut-tut. It looks like rain." Their refusal to look at the truth and name it is abhorrent.
When I arrived at the Vigil, people were already assembling at the roadside with signs. "Honk for Justice" "Black Lives Matter" "Stand With Us". And then there were the names, so many names. The names of the dead. Tyrone West, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland...the ever-expanding litany of those whose lives were taken away by those who judged them too dangerous to be allowed to live or not valuable enough as a human being to be treated as one.
The Vigil is like church. There is community. There is welcome. There is acceptance. And their are things that challenge your soul and demand that you do better.
The students who spoke were beautiful both in their honesty and whole-hearted anguish. Every story they told was one that all parents in Howard County need to hear. There was one young woman whose words became more of a plea.
"My little brother is 13. They say some people think African American boys look older than they are. What if someone thinks he's dangerous and shoots him. He's just a kid! I love him so much..." she broke down in tears.
Not one day in my life have I had a fear like that. None of our children should have this weight upon their hearts. If we have it in our power to lift this burden, then we must. In any way that we can, we must try.
It began with signs, moved to sorrows, and ended in song, The music played and the young people got people up and moving with dance. Young and old, black and white, children running around, tearful mothers hugging.
The Black Lives Matter Vigil happens on the second Sunday of each month and is a joint project of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia and St. John Baptist Church.