By Claudia J. Gonzalez
Photos by Alyssa Castro
Organizers and community members gathered in Merced on June 24th to pay homage to the nine African-American victims killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Organized in conjunction with Live Free Merced and Mt. Pisgah, the local AME church, the event brought together about 60 people.
Trying to be Visible– Strategically choosing the corner of Olive Ave and R St, organizers hoped the vigil would grab the attention of passing traffic as well as residents of the area, which is one of Merced’s more affluent neighborhoods.
Learning to Forgive– Attendees listened to Reverend Phil Jenkins’ reflection on the tragedy in Charleston and his thoughts on what must be done in order to heal, forgive, and move forward.
Sending a Message– Barbara Roland, 71, of Sound Life Church, listened carefully while holding a sigh which read: ‘Racism is Real! #BlackLivesMatter.’
Serenading the Crowd– “At the event, the Mt. Pisgah Choir sang songs of hope and compassion to the crowd. Cars passing by the busy intersection would honk in appreciation. The message they shared resonated with the audience, most of whom joined in to sing as well. Seeing the community stand together in solidarity gave me goosebumps. With all the distractions in the world, we sometimes forget that we are all humans and that we should always stick together.” Miguel Garcia, 20.
Not an Isolated Incident– Pastor Edward Prothro-Harris of Mt. Pisgah, reminded community members that Charleston is not an isolated incident and that a similar tragedy could occur in Merced at any time. “We hold bible study on Wednesday evenings,” exclaimed Pastor Prothro-Harris. “That could could have been us!”
#CharlestontoMerced– Community members held a collective sign which reads ‘Charleston’ as they part of their peaceful demonstration.
Power in Numbers– Holding hands, the group safely occupies the intersection of Olive and R Streets while showcasing their signs. Over 40 people participated in the peaceful demonstration.
Diversity– Stopped traffic got a glimpse of the unity and diversity of the group, which was representative of the Merced community.
Starting Young– A little girl happily crossed the intersection of Olive and R. People of all ages participated in the demonstration, including a couple of toddlers with parents, teenagers and several elderly residents.
A Tribute for the Victims– The group honored the victims of the Charleston massacre. The ‘Charleston’ sign was flipped over to unveiled the names of the nine people who lost their lives : Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson.
A Minute of Silence- “During the vigil, the minute of silence was so powerful. Everyone bowed their heads to show respect and honor the nine lives that were lost in Charleston. The moment became historic because there was people from different ethnic backgrounds expressing their solidarity. I felt humility seeing the community come out and support one another. It was amazing to see people gathered, acknowledging racism is real while also trying to make a difference.” – Guadalupe Reyes, 17
“At the vigil, almost the entire time we were holding hands. It made me feel a sense of commitment and support, like we all had an ‘all for one, one for all’ kind of a mentality. It was very moving to see. I walked away feeling hopeful for the next generation and the Merced community.” -Parker Chaddock, 15
The group finished the event by chanting Assata Shakur’s famous rallying call: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose, but our chains.”
For more information about how you can get involved with Live Free Merced email [email protected]. The group meets Wednesday nights from 6:30-7:30pm at the Merced Organizing Project office located at 415 W. 18th St.