Candlelight Vigil in Brookdale Park Held in Solidarity with Charlottesville

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A candlelight vigil was held in Brookdale Park Sunday night to “gather for peace and solidarity with Charlottesville.”

The event, hosted by NJ 11th for Change, drew an estimated crowd of 400-500 people, many accompanied by their children. Most were holding candles or other lights and stood in a circle on the archery field in the park.

The vigil was one of many such events held nationwide in the aftermath of the “Unite the Right” rally that took place in Charlottesville, VA on Saturday. Heather Heyer, a young woman who was in Charlottesville protesting against the white supremacist rally, was killed by a car driven purposely into the group of protesters by one of the “Unite the Right” supporters.

Elizabeth Juviler began the vigil at a little after 7 p.m., followed by numerous other speakers from all around the area.

Bishop George Lucey of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Glen Ridge spoke, followed by Marcia Marley of Bluewave NJ, who quoted Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

Rabbi Ariann Weitzman of Temple B’nai Keshet in Montclair quoted Hillel the Elder, saying, “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?”

Pastor Ronald Verblaauw of the Rutherford Congregational Church, wearing a rainbow-hued stole, led the crowd in a call-and-response prayer declaring that all people are siblings and calling for unity.

Mikie Sherrill, a Democratic Congressional candidate from Montclair who is running against Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, spoke, as well as numerous other community members.

A mother holding her young child spoke forcefully about the need to teach our children at a young age so they will grow up believing in what is right.

Speeches were interspersed with song. The crowd sang “This Little Light of Mine” and “We Shall Overcome,” the voices tentative at first, and then stronger as more joined in.

As the last strains of “We Shall Overcome” faded, Montclair resident Denise Rodgers spoke, commenting that she had been singing that song since she was 5 years old and couldn’t believe she still has to be singing it today. She read the famous poem by Martin Niemoller as the audience listened somberly:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.”

Denise Rodgers, center, speaking to the crowd.

She followed with a speech about the history of progress in America, and pointed out that every time there is a progressive movement in America, there is a backlash, giving as an example the rise of the KKK in the 1920s when a progressive movement began, and again in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement.

As dusk fell, the vigil ended with the crowd joining together to sing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”

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