OLEAN, NY — Roughly 150 people of various ages and races attended Saturday's candlelight vigil at Lincoln Park, honoring George Floyd and all other black lives taken by police brutality.
Among the crowd were three 15-year-old high school friends, sitting under a tree and expectantly watching the gazebo that had been set up with an amp and a microphone.
Kaitlyn Sharbaugh of Limestone said she came to the vigil because she could not go to other protests. And she added she felt the need to go to a protest because members of her family are Native American.
Karly Bruton of Allegany explained why she attended, “I just feel like it’s really important to be here and support Black Lives Matter. I really think it’s wrong, what’s happening to people.”
And their friend Alicia Crimmons of Allegany voiced similar sentiments. “It’s really just horrible,” she said. “No race should be above one another just because of the melanin in your skin.”
As the three girls waited for the event to begin, they shared mixed feelings.
“(There is) a sense of community, bringing people together over a cause,” Sharbaugh said. “It’s solemn, but there’s a happy atmosphere.”
Crimmons expressed disappointment over the need for vigils and protests at all but added, “It’s heartwarming that more people than ever are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Sharbaugh’s father, Cattaraugus County Probation Department Director Michael Sharbaugh, said he came to the vigil with her at her request.
He admitted his career made it a bit awkward for him to be there, but he supported the vigil completely.
“No one hates a bad cop more than a good cop,” Sharbaugh said. “We’re all part of this community. We all want to live peacefully. If this is what it takes to make recognition to the problem, it’s a good thing.”
Eight speakers addressed the vigil attendees.
Steven Campbell of Olean opened the program by giving greetings, then introducing Rev. Rick Price, who said a prayer.
Next, Alex Twitty of Olean listed 103 names of black people who have been killed since the 1950s due to police brutality while the audience started lighting their candles. The sale of the candles at $2 a piece benefited the African American Center for Cultural Development.
“Everybody’s being hurt,” Twitty said. “A lot of white people hurt right now, and black people have been hurt, so for white people to be hurt about this is a big deal.”
African American Center for Cultural Development Director Della Moore spoke next and said she was amazed at the amount of people in attendance.
“I so appreciate the fact that you’re here,” Moore said. “Gosh, where have you been?”
Moore encouraged people to use their “individual spheres of influence” to spread love and change.
“There’s something we all can do,” she said. “You see something being done that you know good and well in your heart shouldn’t be done, address it right then.”
The next speaker, Frankie Irving of Brooklyn, gave a spoken word piece he composed, “Growing Up Black Means,” to let attendees know what life had been like for him.
“The neighborhood sees me with a can and thinks I must be getting intoxicated,” Irving said. “The neighborhood sees me with a bag and thinks I must be either doing or selling drugs. I was just trying to enjoy my Arizona and Skittles.”
Throughout his piece, Irving recognized several black victims of systematic racism from the 1940s into the 2010s: Emmet Till, George Stinney Jr., Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and Sean Bell.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do to cause my death,” Irving said. “I’m here to talk to everybody and tell you when we hear, ‘black lives matter,’ please take that into consideration.”
Jael Austin of Brooklyn spoke after Irving and told those assembled that he could relate to what Irving said. Addressing people of all races, Austin said he was encouraging black people to stop hating each other and non-black people to understand what black people face.
“No matter what race you are, whatever you’ve learned is what you take into this world,” Austin said. “And we have to learn how to love one another, to be kind to one another because, without that, the world will be an evil place.”
Tyrone Hall of Olean, owner of the Hall of Fame Barbershop, told people to take action.
“Let’s not march because everybody else is marching,” Hall said. “March with purpose. Know why you’re marching. We’re not here to fight people.”
Hall said the purpose of protesting is to take action, cause change and start reconciliation.
“If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything,” Hall said.
In closing, Hall read 1 Corinthians 13: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth."
Then everyone in attendance observed an eight-minute-and-46-second silence, recognizing the same amount of time that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against George Floyd’s neck on May 25.
Closing the vigil, Olean Mayor William Aiello took the mic and told the attendees: “Olean is a good community. We’re going to get through all of this.”
Video: Mayor William J. Aiello closes vigil with remarks on Olean's faith-based community.
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