MERIDEN — Approximately 150 Upper Valley residents joined a weekly community vigil on Route 120 in Meriden Wednesday afternoon to promote racial justice and awareness following a week of nationwide unrest.
Members of the Cornish and Plainfield community have gathered weekly since 2015 at the intersection of Route 120 and Main Street to hold signs in support of racial justice, said John Gregory-Davis, pastor of Meriden Congregational Church.
“I’m surprised so many people are here because it’s such an out of the way location,” Davis said.
Their weekly vigils typically comprise anywhere between six to 10 participants and until Wednesday the largest turnout was 25 people, after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., in 2016.
Davis said the turnout “obviously shows the need people feel to do something” in the aftermath of the death of an unarmed George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 by police.
New vigil participants included Upper Valley residents who learned about the demonstration through social media posts and Meriden Congregational Church parishioners who felt compelled to be more engaged with the cause.
Sunapee resident Kelsey MacNamee, 28, and Meriden resident Fiona Greenough, 20, both grew up as parishioners at the Meriden Congregational Church and remain active in the church as adults. Yet this was their first time joining one of the vigils.
“I always felt like if I do good things and take care of the people around me in my little corner, that might be enough,” MacNamee said. “But you do have to take a stand at this point. I know it’s been going on for years and years, but it just feels more and more egregious and unjust.”
“Even if you think you are fine and against these behaviors, I think if you aren’t doing something to make tangible change, then you are accepting this violence,” Greenough said.
Jordan Moore, 37, participated in the vigil with her two daughters, Adaire, 7, and Virginia, 5.
“We are very honest and vocal with our kids about these events,” Moore said. “This is what’s going on.”
Moore and her daughters are currently residing with family in Plainfield, but also live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Moore said she is open with her daughters about current events. Her children also have friends of varying racial identities, which Moore said helps in discussions about feelings and other perspectives.
While Cambridge has more diversity than New Hampshire, the Boston area also has greater challenges in regard to police violence and conflicts, Moore said. Moore brought her family up to their home in Plainfield earlier this year than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Norwich residents Sylvie Alexander, 21, Elsa Davis, 22, and Grace Davis, 21, said they had no affiliation with the Meriden Congregational Church but heard about the vigil on Instagram and wanted to show their support.
“We were appalled by what we saw in George Floyd’s death,” Grace Davis said. “Right now there’s such a groundswell that’s been borne from this movement, it’s really important to bring that to this area.”
For Pastor Davis, the big challenge now will be how to sustain the current energy.
The reason for committing to weekly vigils was to keep the community's attention to injustice “consistent,” Davis said.
“The issue doesn’t go away just because it stops being news,” Davis pointed out. “One woman once drove by and asked, ‘Aren’t you done with that? Isn’t that over?’ We didn’t think things were actually any better.”
But the size and scope of the current movement gives Davis hope, as it creates more creative opportunities and participants to sustain the energy, he said.
“As important as today is, this event alone will not bring change,” Davis said. “It’s a step, and a powerful step. But it’s what we do going forward that’s going to make the difference if we finally become a nation that comes to terms with its legacy of systemic racism and white supremacy.”
This Wednesday vigil was just one of several demonstrations demanding change following the death of George Floyd to take place in the state within the past week. Bristol, Concord, Hampton, Hanover, Keene and Manchester have all held gatherings in the past week and more are planned for this upcoming weekend.
The demonstrations are also occurring across the Connecticut River. On Monday, June 1, as tens of thousands were protesting across the country, Toby Riffle, 22, of Chester, Vt., felt he would join the call for justice. Riffle, who just graduated from George Washington University via his living room due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, held up a sign saying "RIP George Floyd #blacklivesmatter" as a form of non-violent protest in the rain.
Additionally, residents of Springfield, Vt., are planning to gather on Main Street on Friday, June 5, at 5:30 p.m. to peacefully protest "racism and police brutality against people of color," according to a flyer. Those leading the event emphasize that attendees practice social distancing and wear face coverings in an effort to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Ed. Note, June 4, 2020: The participants in the weekly vigils that have occurred since 2015 are members the Cornish and Plainfield communities, and not necessarily affiliated with Meriden Congregational Church.