First AME North Las Vegas Vigil for Peace and Unity Draws 700
By Glenda Logan Osby, 5th Episcopal District
“When I saw what happened in Charlottesville it took me back to the 1960s when I was a kid watching what took place during the civil rights movement,” said the Rev. Ralph E. Williamson, senior pastor of First AME Church in North Las Vegas, Nevada. “It is a fresh reminder that racism is not dead. It’s alive and well in our nation. We need to do something that will drastically change this. I never want to see that happen again,” he continued.
So in a move to raise awareness and seek action, on the afternoon of August 20, 2017, FAME‘s pastor, members, and officers opened the church doors to the community for a vigil for peace and unity to decry the racism and violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacy protest rallies resulted in tragedy and left one woman dead and others injured. People from all races, faiths, and backgrounds gathered at First AME Church on that Sunday afternoon. They came from throughout the Las Vegas area and stood shoulder-to-shoulder during the vigil for peace and unity in denouncing anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry in the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville.
In addition to FAME, Faith Organizing Alliance, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, the Jewish Federation, and multiple communities and religious faith groups including Holy Trinity and Fountain of Hope AME Churches sponsored the vigil. These leaders gathered in a show of unity at the church before the vigil began, displaying strong leadership from every demographic and faith community and speaking with a unified voice to say that white supremacy, hatred, racism, and fascism has no place in the United States of America.
Carrying no posters or signs but many holding lit candles, the overflow crowd of 700 people filled the sanctuary, overflow room, narthex, and even stood outside listening via the outside loudspeakers. During the vigil, some hugged and smiled in the spirit of unity. Prayers were said asking for good for all people. They sang hymns, spirituals, and songs of peace and hope. When appropriate, heads were bowed in moments of silence as speakers reflected on how to bring about change. Some speakers talked about how people are not born to hate but that hate is learned and can be unlearned. Leaders from the city, elected officials, and Nevada state legislators who were invited to speak advocated unity during these times.
D.J. Sinai of Temple Beth Sholom said the vigil brought hope that peace can bring togetherness. “‘Zechor’ means remember,” Sinai said. “We need to remember these kinds of horrible events so they don’t happen again. What happened in Charlottesville showed that we didn’t learn from each other in the past. Las Vegas needs to be the stepping ground, be the example and show that hate will always lose,” he added. As people departed back to their homes, communities, and civic and faith-based organizations throughout the Las Vegas valley, the example of this peaceful and powerful vigil left them with the hope that they could be a catalyst of change in the future to stamp out the bigotry of the past.
Picture used with permission of the Rev. Leonard Jackson, FAME Associate Minister.
Glenda Logan Osby is a member First AME Church, Las Vegas, and administrator for the FAME Body & Soul Program.