Candlelit Vigil Fights the Darkness
March 13, 2017
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Last Sunday evening, members of the town of Westford were brought together for a vigil commemorating the recent attack in Kansas and many of the hate crimes which have followed.
Roughly 150 people gathered on the Westford town common, in 20 degree weather, to join their fellow man, with electronic candles in hand, for an evening of speeches and prayers all with the tone of standing up to hate and spreading peace and love.
Arranged by Indivisible Westford a local organization dedicated to equality and fair treatment, under the work of two of its members: Beth Morrison and Padma Sonti, they were accompanied by members of the town’s religious community including Reverend Eric, from the First Parish United, Rabbi Perry, from Congregation Shalom, representative Peg Hicks, from Saint Catherine of Siena’s Catholic Church, Mary Lahaj, from the Islamic Society of Greater Lowell and Neelkanth Mishra, from a nearby Hindu temple.
In her opening address, Morrison described Indivisible Westford as “…focus[ing] on ways that we can have influence to promote our values of inherent dignity and the equal rights of all members of the human family.” She continued to highlight the reported 1,000 hate crimes since the presidential election in November and how we must “…stand in solidarity against intolerance and hatred in all forms.”
After a following moment of applause muffled by the sound frozen gloves, Sonti addressed the crowd on the rise in hate crimes and her own thoughts and feelings as an immigrant saying: “I am afraid for my kids, Americans through and through, on how they will fare. They know no other language, no other culture and have no identity than that of a proud American. What of them?…Your thoughts and actions in the next few months and years will turn this tide of fear and hatred but it is not going to happen without our continued, conscious and committed engagement.”
Following these calls to action, several religious leaders came before the crowd with prayers to God and hope for peace, including Neelkanth Mishra singing an ancient Hindu hymn in Sanskrit, a sacred and ancient Indian language. After finishing he translated the song as: “May peace radiate there in the whole sky… May peace be there and all over this earth and water. May peace flow over the whole universe. May there be peace in the supreme being Brahman.”
After these appeals for peace and comfort, a moment of silence was held in memorium of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was murdered by a gunman in Kansas. Two others, Alok Madasani and Ian Grillott, were also injured in the attack.
After the vigil ended, organizers Padma Sonti and Beth Morrison met with helpers and reporters in the nearby First Parish United and spoke with us about them, their organization and what more can be done.
Sonti first heard of the attacks in Kansas after getting back from a trip. With Morrison, they decided to create a vigil to show solidarity and give hope. But, since the the shooting, things just seemed to get worse. “…and since the day we started planning, which was March second one after another things started happening: There was the incident in Washington, there was the incident in Florida, the mosques were…put on fire, the Jewish cemeteries that were [vandal]ized,… the bomb threats at the synagogues; kids being hauled out in the middle of the day because they had babies in cribs. What is this!” Sonti said.
The vigil became about much more than one attack, she said. “It’s just something to do together to say ‘we are with you’ and show our kids and the next generation that it’s gonna get better.”
As a message to young people, she told us to: “Speak up. Speak up. If you see somebody [being] bullied because of where they come from or how they look, what they wear…Go stand next to them. Be there for them… it starts here. You have to take control of what’s happening.”
Sonti encouraged high school kids to get involved in Indivisible Westford: “I think high school students need to get involved. We actually talked about that at our very first meeting.”
To learn more about Indivisible Westford you can email them at [email protected] or attend their next meeting at the First Parish United in Westford on March 19.