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Pastors, elected officials stand ground during vigil

Dozens came out to stand their ground against gun violence, racism and discrimination Sunday evening during a prayer vigil held subsequent to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin’s death earlier this month in Florida.

All wore yellow ribbons as a sign of optimism and enlightenment.

Ebony Guy, whose grandmother Cora Tucker started Citizens for a Better America in 1975, greeted everyone who came out and encouraged them to stand their ground.

“We gather here today for many reasons. Some are here because we’re heartbroken reflecting on the loss of Trayvon Martin. Some are here because we’re frustrated, asking why the lives of our black boys are deemed worthless. Some of us question the laws on the books in Florida and other states across the nation. But one thing is clear here in Halifax, across Virginia, across the nation, and around the world, we are tired of the status quo, and we are ready to stand our ground and take action,” Guy said.

Many local pastors and elected officials offered remarks Sunday evening.

The Rev. Frank Coleman, Halifax/South Boston NAACP president and pastor of First Baptist Church on Ferry Street in South Boston, led the opening prayer and sang a spiritual entitled “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen” before connecting Trayvon Martin’s incident to that of Emmett Till who was brutally beaten and murdered for whistling at a white woman at a Money, Mississippi store in 1955.

“In 1955, a young black man in Money, Mississippi went to the store to buy some candy. Fifteen years later another black man in Sanford, Florida did the same. Though the circumstances were different, the bottom-line is that both trips led to a death, one Emmett Till and the other Trayvon Martin,” Coleman said.

 “So we come today to pray against violence, gun violence and the murdering of our children, against racism of any kind, against soft discrimination and racial profiling, for the families of all the Emmett Tills and Trayvon Martins who have died,” he continued.

He encouraged the crowd to pray for change, peace, healing and harmony once and for all in their community, nation and world. 

“Thank you for joining us to take this opportunity to pray for unity and love and to dissipate the barriers that cause us to not have the unity and love needed in all our communities,” Coleman said.

Also speaking at the vigil was Catholic Priest Christopher N. Ross, a chaplain in the Halifax Regional Hospital ICU Department.

“If anything positive has come out of the verdict that set George Zimmerman free, it is that we are all here today. Had George Zimmerman been convicted and locked up, we may, misguidedly have thought that justice had been done. Back to business as usual, that is until the next killing,” Ross said.

 He referred to the speech President Barack Obama gave Friday where he said he could have been Trayvon Martin 35 years ago.

“Personally I have not experienced the indignities that young black men suffer in our society. But as a convert to Christianity from Judaism, I know what it’s like to grow up being called dirty Jew. As a gay man, I know what it’s like to be called queer, sissy and faggot when I didn’t even know what any of that meant,” Ross said.

 He said after coming out the closet at age 36, he learned what it was like to be almost run down by a passing motorist offended that he and his late partner were holding hands and followed by a man with a baseball bat uttering anti-gay slurs. 

He admitted that, unlike Obama, he could not have been Trayvon Martin, but he could have been Harvey Milk or Matthew Shepard who were brutally murdered for being gay.

“Chances are there isn’t anyone on the planet who hasn’t been ridiculed, bullied, intimidated or harassed in some way simply because of who he or she is. When will we as a species figure out how to stop killing each other,” he said. “…As a nation we’ve chosen to do it not by education, not by exposure, not by spending time together, not by listening to and learning from each other as a nation. As a nation, we’ve chosen to do it by relaxing our gun laws and pretending that guns keep us safe.”

He noted that since 1950 the United States has been the biggest weapons manufacturer.

‘“There is no way to peace,’ 20th century radical peace activist A. J. Muste once said. ‘Peace is the way.’ But it takes commitment and dedication and diligence and incredibly hard work. It takes examining our hearts, our minds, our motivations, our emotions and our actions every single day for the rest of our lives,” he said at the conclusion of his speech.

He said then and only then might they also be able to say what Mamie Till Mobley, Emmett Till’s mother, said, “I have not spent one minute hating.”

Halifax County School Board Chairman Kim Farson read a quote from Marianne Williamson during the vigil.

“In every community there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart there is the power to do it,” Farson said quoting Williamson.

The Rev. Margaret Coleman read a prayer to the crowd.

“God, your people have come together to stand their ground against the plights of criminal injustice, cultural prejudices, gender bias, hatred and malice. God, we assemble ourselves together to stand our ground that no more will we remain separate because one group doesn’t look like or act like another. God, we assemble together to stand our ground against racial profiling of young black males and other people of color. God, we assemble together to stand our ground against unjust laws that pit one group against another,” she read.

 Also speaking at Sunday evening’s vigil were South Boston Mayor Ed Owens, the Rev. Alfred Chandler, pastor of St. Matthews Baptist Church, the Rev. C. Lewis Motley, ED-8 Supervisor  W. Bryant Claiborne and former NAACP President the Rev. Kevin Chandler.

 Owens said he supported working together to make the community a better place.

The Rev. Alfred Chandler agreed.

 “Without working together we’ll never get it done. What we are facing is something that can happen to any of our children or grandchildren,” he said.

  Claiborne said racism had been around for years, and he had experienced it first hand growing up and while in law school. He said it is still going on today.

“We’ve ignored it for years,” he said.

He said the killing of Travyon Martin just opened eyes to the situation, and now it is time to stand up and take action.

Motley agreed with Claiborne and explained a recent situation where he parked in a handicapped spot and was reprimanded and said the same action should have been applied to the Zimmerman case. 

He said he violated the law by parking in a handicapped space, and Zimmerman violated the law by killing someone, and that violation should be handled accordingly.

At the conclusion of the vigil, the crowd held hands and sang, “We Shall Overcome.”