Utah vigil on March on Washington anniversary honors those killed by racist violence

Aug 29, 2023, 7:54 AM

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns took a stand against hate on the steps of the state Capitol Monday evening, on the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington and on the heels of a racially motivated mass shooting.

On a day to remember the past, Darlene McDonald is reminded that the reason to remember what happened many years ago is still very present.

“We have a lynching, another lynching in this country,” she said, standing near the steps of the Utah Capitol.

A shooting in Jacksonville, Florida, over the weekend, McDonald said, was a personal attack on people who look just like her.

“A young man in his early twenties attacked, specifically targeted, African Americans in Florida,” she said. “And he killed three people just because they were black.”

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McDonald, the engagement chair for the Utah Black Roundtable, reached out to both Utah branches of the NAACP and her other organization, 1Utah Project. They decided the community needed to come together, being that it was also two monumental anniversaries: The Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington, and the Aug. 28, 1955, lynching of Emmett Till.

“I should not be in this place 60 years later, fighting the same fight,” said Betty Sawyer, president of the Ogden chapter of the NAACP. She stood in front of a crowd, some holding signs that read: “Educate to Eradicate Racism #ERACISM,” and “August 28, 1963 August 28, 2023 A Continuation… United Against Hate.”

The vigil not only honored the anniversaries but offered a space for the community to mourn and keep fighting against racial injustices and racially motivated violence.
McDonald said the events in Florida show that “we’re not there yet,” in regard to the vision in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech that he delivered during the March on Washington.

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Pastor Robert Merrills of Baseline Christian Fellowship Church talked about how in Dr. King’s speech, Dr. King said he hoped someday his daughters would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

“We can’t ignore and act like that skin is not still an issue,” he said. “But we still have to continue, have conversations and educate people, and so that they understand.”

He said he overheard a trooper at the Utah Capitol tell people the vigil was a “protest,” and Merrills explained that the fact the officer didn’t know what the event was for, shows the importance of communication, contextualization and understanding.

He also explained that standing against hate means standing with love.

“We still need love in this world,” he said. “And love is a lot bigger than evil.”

Giving the closing prayer, Merrills said everyone at the vigil may look different with different backgrounds and stories, but they have one thing in common.

“We’re here, standing together, in unity,” he said, as everyone connected in a prayer circle. “Against hatred, against division, against those who would do wrong when they have a choice to do right.”

He and McDonald urged people to get involved in community organizations, take the time to educate themselves, vote and treat others with kindness.

“We must stand against hate,” McDonald said. “We must teach our history. We must understand the history — why we continue to stand up, and why we continue to march.”
“Even in pain, you can still demonstrate love and help a community heal,” Merrills said. “And I think that’s what we want to continue to do.”

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Utah vigil on March on Washington anniversary honors those killed by racist violence