PETERSBURG — With the tragic events in Dallas, Texas, St. Paul, Minnesota and Baton Rouge, Louisiana still fresh in people’s minds, elected officials, community leaders and local residents gathered at the Petersburg Public Library for a candlelight vigil Thursday evening.
Despite sweltering heat nearing the triple digits, the vigil's attendees came together to honor victims of the recent shootings, to call for unity and to pray for peace, with several political and religious leaders from the Petersburg community and the Tri-Cities standing in solidarity with that message.
The vigil opened with remarks from Senator Rosalyn R. Dance and Delegate Lashrecse Aird.
"Recent events once again bring to light the challenges we face as a community and country,” Aird said. “Bringing about meaningful change for the struggles and inequalities in our society calls for a shared commitment from citizens, leaders, businesses and government throughout our community, and my goal is that this will only be part of the essential approach that includes reflection and conversations that nurture a bonded community and eliminates barriers toward unity.”
Colonial Heights Mayor T. Gregory Kochuba, who joined Dance and Aird to close the ceremony singing Michael Jackson’s “We’re The World (USA For Africa)," talked about how the attacks in France happened while he was on his way to the vigil, and how it served as another reminder of how important events like this are.
“It’s important to see the community coming together like this in light of the events of the last few weeks,” said Kochuba. “I felt that I had to be here, representing Colonial Heights, and to mourn and memorialize those lost along with the people of Petersburg.
"Times like these are when we need to come together the most.”
There remains a long way for the community to put aside past strife to come together - something several attendees weren’t shy in talking about.
John Conover, a local Navy veteran, was quick to bring up some of that past racial strife, and to talk about hope for the future.
“I sailed around the world serving in the US Navy, and the only time I ever dealt with racism was when I got back on American soil, and to serve this country only to be treated like that was horrible,” said Conover. “I believe we’re finally coming together these days, I really do, but there are still so many people that need to accept that we are one people.”
Looking at those attending the vigil - standing together, singing together and praying together - it's easy to see the potential for a country and a community not divided over black lives or blue lives, but coming together to mourn and celebrate human lives.
Another ceremony, a Day of Prayer for Our Community and Country, is to be held on Monday, July 18, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. at Gillfield Baptist Church.
•Sean CW Korsgaard may be reached at email@example.com or at 804-722-5172.