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Mourners gather at Smith College to remember lives of nine killed in Charleston shooting



Monday, July 20, 2015
NORTHAMPTON — About 200 people gathered Friday night at Smith College for music, prayer and meditation to mourn the killings of nine Charleston, South Carolina, churchgoers.

“It’s really important to be here,” longtime activist Frances Crowe of Northampton said before the vigil. “Small acts lead to more courageous acts and this is just one of the small things.”

Marianne Yoshioka, dean of the Smith School for Social Work, which organized the event, said the vigil is a response to more than just the Charleston shootings.

“It just feels like there’s this ongoing barrage of racialized violence,” she said. “As a community, we wanted to do something.”

The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lee Lance, Cynthia Hurd, the Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson were killed by a gunman at a bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston Wednesday night. Dylann Storm Roof, 21, was arrested Thursday and faces nine counts of murder.

A violinist played before Yoshioka opened the vigil with brief remarks. She said the purpose of their gathering was to “have a moment to come together and recognize the lives that were lost” and to “signal to those families that we care.”

Social work student Charlie Shealy then read a summary of the details of the shooting and drew attention to the fact that the vigil was held on June 19, known as Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States in 1865. Shealy called it “America’s second Independence Day.”

First-year social work student Courtney Tucker gave an impassioned reading of Maya Angelou’s “When Great Trees Fall.”

“And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly,” she read from the poem’s last stanza.

Before lighting candles, college religious adviser Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser told the gathering that the shooting victims “are nine people who have been given wings.”

The mourners then began reading each of the victims’ names, and a candle was lit for each. Those candles were then used to light the ones being held by participants in the vigil as a violin played.

“It only takes a tiny bit of light to illuminate a dark room,” Shapiro-Rieser said.

She then led a prayer that suggested creating a “new world” where no one has to be fearful of hate or violence. “This is a dark time,” Shapiro-Rieser. “But we have lit our candles — both the candles that we hold, and the candles in our hearts.”

The group was then led in singing “We Shall Overcome” by Jahqueena Haynes, a second-year social work student.

Yoshioka said that the vigil was very much in line with the work she and her students do every day.

“Social work as a profession is really grounded in values of social justice,” Yoshioka told a reporter. She added that the Smith school is known for its focus on anti-racism.

“We’re grappling with the way structural oppression lives in peoples’ lives,” she said. “Social work can address it.”

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.

NORTHAMPTON — About 200 people gathered Friday night at Smith College for music, prayer and meditation to mourn the killings of nine Charleston, South Carolina, churchgoers.

“It’s really important to be here,” longtime activist Frances Crowe of Northampton said before the vigil. “Small acts lead to more courageous acts and this is just one of the small things.”

Marianne Yoshioka, dean of the Smith School for Social Work, which organized the event, said the vigil is a response to more than just the Charleston shootings.

“It just feels like there’s this ongoing barrage of racialized violence,” she said. “As a community, we wanted to do something.”

The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lee Lance, Cynthia Hurd, the Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson were killed by a gunman at a bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston Wednesday night. Dylann Storm Roof, 21, was arrested Thursday and faces nine counts of murder.

A violinist played before Yoshioka opened the vigil with brief remarks. She said the purpose of their gathering was to “have a moment to come together and recognize the lives that were lost” and to “signal to those families that we care.”

Social work student Charlie Shealy then read a summary of the details of the shooting and drew attention to the fact that the vigil was held on June 19, known as Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States in 1865. Shealy called it “America’s second Independence Day.”

First-year social work student Courtney Tucker gave an impassioned reading of Maya Angelou’s “When Great Trees Fall.”

“And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly,” she read from the poem’s last stanza.

Before lighting candles, college religious adviser Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser told the gathering that the shooting victims “are nine people who have been given wings.”

The mourners then began reading each of the victims’ names, and a candle was lit for each. Those candles were then used to light the ones being held by participants in the vigil as a violin played.

“It only takes a tiny bit of light to illuminate a dark room,” Shapiro-Rieser said.

She then led a prayer that suggested creating a “new world” where no one has to be fearful of hate or violence. “This is a dark time,” Shapiro-Rieser. “But we have lit our candles — both the candles that we hold, and the candles in our hearts.”

The group was then led in singing “We Shall Overcome” by Jahqueena Haynes, a second-year social work student.

Yoshioka said that the vigil was very much in line with the work she and her students do every day.

“Social work as a profession is really grounded in values of social justice,” Yoshioka told a reporter. She added that the Smith school is known for its focus on anti-racism.

“We’re grappling with the way structural oppression lives in peoples’ lives,” she said. “Social work can address it.”

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.