SPRINGFIELD, NJ — The Springfield community gathered at Meisel Park Monday night for a vigil to remember the life of George Floyd, who tragically died at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota two weeks ago and hope for more racial equality in society as a part of “Lift Every Voice in Springfield,” a candlelight vigil organized by three young Springfield residents in partnership with Antioch Baptist Church and the Springfield Unity Project (SUP).
With the sound of the late Bill Wither’s “Lean on Me,” playing in the background as crowds began to gather for demonstrations, Springfield Mayor Chris Capodice, could feel the kindness of the diverse crowd of residents who stood before him not as individuals, but as a community.
“I think it’s a nice testament to not only our town, our county and our state with all these demonstrations going on,” Capodice said. “It’s [has] to give you a good feeling of hope that there is togetherness.”
He also expressed his support and was inspired to see a new generation of passionate individuals take a stand and continue to use their voices to make change in their community.
“I want you to know I am listening, and our Township Committee is listening,” Capodice said in his speech. We commit to you tonight to continue to listen, as we move forward to make tangible changes that are necessary for the betterment of every member of this diverse community that we call Springfield.”
Spectators from multiple generations also came out in support, including Springfield resident Jonah Glass, a graduating senior at Jonathan Dayton High School, who came with this parents, Lisa and David.
This was Glass’ first of what he hopes are many demonstrations for racial equality and believes that the recent events are a wakeup call for the world to speak up against the oppression that has existed for years.
“I think the one thing that’s this entire [movement] is teaching us is that these problems exist, and they need to be talked about, Glass said.”
More high school students were seen showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement including the three young ladies who helped put the vigil together; Lily Gabriel, Deanna DuBois and Carolyn Dorant-Smith, all of whom took to the stands with the other speakers using a bullhorn to spread their ideas and call to action.
Gabriel was the first to speak and admits that she wasn’t exposed to the issue of racial inequality as much as people her age are today. After participating in multiple marches and demonstrations in the area, she was inspired after seeing a crowd of people from different cultures and backgrounds come together for one cause.
“This hasn’t been something that has really been brought to my attention in this big of a light until pretty recently, but it’s been a problem for such a long time [and] we just haven’t listened until now,” the incoming sophomore at Kent Place School said. Finally, we’re uniting as people.”
DuBois echoed Gabriel’s remarks and reflects on the racism she had endured in that past. Coming from a mixed-race upbringing, she wanted to remind her peers that issues like racial inequality needs to be taken seriously and that it can have a negative impact on someone.
“I never realized how much racism is around everywhere,” the incoming sophomore at Jonathan Dayton expressed. “I have been through way too much racism in the past year for no reason. I can’t imagine what it’s like for anyone else.”
Dorant-Smith also looked back at the racism she has experienced in previous years. As she approaches her sophomore year at Union Catholic High School, she has witnessed the jokes people have made, but she was glad to see so many people speak up and support the idea of racial equality in our community.
“Me being a black girl, it’s hard but it’s great that people are speaking up about it and realizing it and that people should be more educated [our culture],” Dorant-Smith said.
After a majority of the speakers had their turn including Capodice, Springfield residents Andrea Blair from SUP and Khalilah Wilbourn, the three students, Senior Pastor Milton Hobbs of the Antioch Baptist Church, Deputy Mayor Chris Weber and Springfield Police Chief John Cook, the entire crowd knelt for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the symbolic amount of time former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin knelt of Floyd’s neck, causing him to die.
Every speaker was delighted to see such a large, diverse crowd of roughly 600 residents showing their support for the movement, but understand that in the middle of a worldwide pandemic that there are many others uncomfortable coming out in person.
Along with making donations and signing petitions, the three girls told the crowd that now is the time to educate themselves and recommended many documentaries and series, including “13th,” which is currently available for streaming on Netflix.
Capodice also reassured those who could not make it that there are other ways to get involved from the comfort of their own home and the most important way to take action is to vote.
“Your safety is job number one,” Capodice said. “Anytime any resident feels unsafe, please by all means stay home. If you feel that you can socially distance and take part in any type of demonstration, feel free to do so, but the biggest and best thing a person can do is vote to make your voice heard.”