About 180 people gathered on June 19, also called “Juneteenth,” at Christ Our Light Parish in Princeton for a peaceful, family-friendly, community showing of solidarity.
Juneteenth, referred to as Emancipation Day, commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States in 1865.
“This is an event to bring our community together, to find common ground, to celebrate diversity and to continue educating ourselves about racial inequities,” said Sydney Arens, one of the event’s organizers. “We are here to show our support, our commitment to change, our willingness to listen and our commitment to seeking racial justice.”
Arens reached out to both Christ Our Light and Trinity Lutheran churches in Princeton to help bring the community together for the event. Molly Weyrens, pastoral associate at Christ Our Light and Pastor Kari Pancoast of Trinity Lutheran joined in on the planning.
Donning masks and practicing social distancing, the group gathered on the parish grounds where they heard stories, reflections, Scripture, song and prayer.
Pastor Mike Pancoast of Trinity Lutheran Church was invited to share some remarks.
“I focused on the passage from Isaiah 25: 6-8, where Isaiah is given a vision by God of a mountain in which God welcomes all people, all nations. One of the biggest words in this passage is also one of the smallest words – the word ‘all.’ For such a small word, God is doing something only God can do – and that is to inspire people toward a vision where God welcomes all. As we pursue that ideal, we may only catch glimpses of it. The invitation to us is that however imperfectly we may pursue this as a community, in our congregations, we will grow accordingly as well.”
Following the program, the group walked along Rum River Drive for about six blocks, carrying signs of support and love, and then circled back to the church.
Weyrens said that although they received some criticism and negative attention, it was a good step for the community.
“Most people were grateful that this was happening,” she said. “Our police chief was very supportive but did inform us that they were getting calls from people who were upset about it. Some people yelled things at us but we can’t let fear overtake what we are doing.”
Weyrens said that, at the event, about 40 participants signed up to be part of a group to continue sharing the message of solidarity and encouraging conversations around racism.
“We hope to do more things like this in the community, to provide a place for people on the margins, or those who don’t feel heard, to have a voice,” Weyrens said. “Our faith calls us to be vocal whenever there are voices that are not heard. We are all called right now to look within ourselves to see what behaviors and thoughts might drive the seeds of racism.
“Many of us live in some pretty ‘white’ places but that shouldn’t deter us from speaking out,” she added. “And we know that what we did and said are not perfect, that it’s not the end. We are going to get it wrong, but we need to keep trying to do the best we can. Events like this give us the chance to keep practicing until we get it right.”