WAVERLY — Hundreds converged Wednesday evening in Kohlmann Park for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silent prayer.
That’s the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck during a May 25 arrest, killing him. The vigil was timed to honor the memory of Floyd, who was black, and call out “the sin of racism” that led to his death.
Wartburg College track coach Marcus Newsom, who organized the event, said before the silent prayer began that he wanted to identify “what has happened in our community and world” in recent weeks. A global protest movement has emerged sparked by Floyd’s death, demanding greater accountability for police and declaring the worth of black lives.
Newsom, who is black, noted that he and his wife, Stephanie, raised three biracial sons in Waverly as well as a daughter who passed away. He recounted how his grandmother worried about his mother and how his mom, even today, worries about him all “because of the sin of racism. Now Stephanie and I worry about our boys because of the sin of racism.”
He also noted that Wednesday was the fifth anniversary of nine black people being murdered in a Charleston, S.C., church. The churchgoers were “shot while attending a Bible study because of the sin of racism,” said Newsom.
“As a child of God, as a black man, as a veteran, as a dad, a husband, a son and a brother, and — yes — a coach, I am hurting because of racism,” he said. “All forms of racism have caused pain for 400 years. This is the reason for the call we have witnessed: Black Lives Matter.”
He asked people “to pray together for change and to commit to change” during the gathering, but charged attendees to begin speaking up once the silent vigil was complete.
“If you’re wishing for this to go away, pass on, the dust to settle, we need to ask ourselves: Why?” said Newsom.
“As a small community we can no longer stay silent.” If so, he added, “we are contributing to the problem.”
People stood, sat or knelt in silence during the nearly nine-minute prayer time with only the sound of the wind blowing through the trees.
Melanie Peters of Waverly said she attended the vigil because she cares about the problem of racism.
“It’s time for justice,” she said. “I have biracial grandchildren, and so I’m hoping for a different world for them by the time they’re driving cars.”
“It is time,” agreed Jackson Reynolds, a 2020 Wartburg graduate. He voiced concern with systemic racism and problems like implicit bias. “It’s time for us to acknowledge our part.”
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