On Tuesday, March 23, over 250 individuals gathered behind the Winchester Public Library overlooking Mill Pond on a clear and mild spring evening to grieve for those murdered in Atlanta on March 16th and to unite in solidarity against hate and racism. The vigil was co-hosted by the Chinese American Network of Winchester, the Network for Social Justice, and the Town of Winchester.
A diverse cross-section of Winchester town leaders addressed the silent crowd, most of whom stood quietly with candles lit for the entirety of the vigil. State Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Michael Day spoke about state-level legislation to address hate crimes and protect civil liberties, while Select Board Chair Michael Bettencourt and Winchester Public Schools Superintendent Judy Evans spoke about town efforts to create an inclusive community. Wei Han, President of the Chinese American Network of Winchester, explained the significance of the lantern ceremony, which was part of the evening.
Ayesha Ghosh, a Winchester High Student and NFSJ intern spoke about her personal experiences as a South Asian young woman in Winchester and the harm that the pressures of the “model minority” stereotype creates. She quoted an essay entitled “Not American Yet” by WHS student Alexander J. Lee, which was one of the top 9 winners in the high school category of The New York Times’s Seventh Annual Student Editorial Contest.
After The Reverend Nick Meyers of the Parish of the Epiphany encouraged everyone there to remember that “we belong together,” Town Manager Lisa Wong took the mic. Wong spoke about her mother, whom she turns to for validation that things will be okay. She confessed that even her mother is unable to provide that validation in the wake of this recent tragedy, and she reaffirmed her commitment to addressing racial justice and equity as part of her role as Town Manager.
After the speeches, Network intern Elina Han read aloud the names of the 8 victims of the Atlanta shootings as volunteers lit lanterns in their memory and set them afloat on Mill Pond. The crowd came together in a moment of silence to honor the victims.
The vigil is part of the NFSJ’s ongoing mission of growing a grassroots movement to advance equity and inclusion in Winchester, work which depends on building intercultural bridges and creating alternative spaces to have challenging conversations. As Ayesha Ghosh put it, “It is absolutely crucial that we all recognize, understand, and validate the realities of the Asian American experience before we are able to commit to pursuing anti-racist work within our town and beyond…We must keep speaking up and spreading awareness until we see true change and equity, and even when we do, we must still continue fighting.”
A full recording of the vigil can be found here. Many thanks to Shukong Ou.