‘Enough is enough’: Black Lives Matter Vigil remembers those lost to racism
SHEPHERDSTOWN — About 120 community members gathered together in the pavilion at Morgan’s Grove Park on Friday night to participate in a Black Lives Matter Vigil.
Organized by Ebone Helmick, Nicole Smith and Gabrielle Tokach, who are all Contemporary American Theater Festival staff members, the vigil gave community members a time to learn about local experiences with racism. At the end of the vigil, community members lit candles for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence, in memory of the length of time Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin, a white man, kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, on May 25. Chauvin and the three police officers assisting him in holding Floyd face-down on the ground have all since been fired and charged with second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree murder, respectively.
While none of the people who spoke during the vigil said they knew a black person who had been murdered due to systemic racism, many of them had stories revealing their personal brushes with racism.
“I am so weary. My husband, Howard, and I have been working on behalf of justice and equality for 50 years,” said Shepherdstown resident Audrey Rowe. “Every time we think we’re moving forward, something else happens.”
According to Rowe, her husband fought racism as one of the first black football players at Wake Forest University. She personally experienced systemic racism several years ago, when she saw a police officer had a child in a choke hold and intervened. The police officer pressed charges against her, which were eventually dropped after he failed to appear in court.
“People say to defund the police, but I say we should demilitarize the police. That is something they can understand,” Rowe said. “I’ve lived in West Virginia for the last 10 years. What I’ve learned here, is that we have work to do.”
Shepherdstown resident Josh Brown said that people should be cautious not to generalize police officers. However, he said he does fear for his life whenever a police car follows him.
“When I get stopped for having a taillight out, I want my life to matter. The spirit of racism is running rampant through America,” Brown said. “In my heart, I do believe racism can be broken, and I know that about five years ago I wouldn’t have said that.”
In 2015, Brown was sent to a low-security prison for three years for a drunken-driving crash resulting in the death of another Shepherdstown man and his dog. While in prison, he completed a drug rehabilitation program, which was mandatory for him to get parole. He did so well in the program that he was asked to lead it, and found his main challenge was dealing with a white supremacist gang. After naming the gang’s leader as his program assistant, Brown saw a change in the gang’s behavior. He later learned that many members of the gang had never known a black person before, and getting to know him made them rethink their behavior.
“I believe love casts out all fears, all darkness, everything. When people got to see me for who I am, that changed things,” Brown said. “This is a country that blacks and whites both fought for our freedom. We’re all equal. It’s time to come together, it’s not a time to divide.”
The Shepherdstown Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and Mayor Jim Auxer worked with the event organizers to ensure the vigil attendees could safe and peaceful experience, according to Tokach.