As the sun set, the voices rose at AACC’s “Rise Above Hate” vigil. They rose with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou and the reflections of various campus and community leaders at the Thursday, Sept. 7 event attended by around 100 students, staff, faculty and friends of the college.
“It was encouraging to see how many people came to show support for civil discourse and unity,” said President Dr. Dawn Lindsay, who spoke at the vigil about the need for the conversation to continue at the college on all levels. “This vigil was a celebration of the rich diversity at AACC where we continue our work to rise above intolerance and celebrate our differences.”
Muhammad Jameel, president of the Islamic Society of Baltimore, shared some of his experiences as a Muslim man in America. “When you do not know the bigger picture, it creates fear, fear of the unknown,” he said, reflecting on the perceptions of the public, and sharing the story of one Muslim man working in the World Trade Center who saved coworkers’ lives and became a victim in the 9/11 attacks.
“Do not be afraid to talk about things that are uncomfortable,” said the spiritual leader, noting his own successful marriage to a Catholic and expounding on their support for each other and conversation around their differences. “In diversity you have the greatest opportunity to learn from each other.”
Rabbi Ari Goldstein, leader of the nearby Temple Beth Shalom, said it was a shame and a disgrace that the vigil was even needed. “But it’s beautiful we’re here,” he added. He spoke of the current climate toward those of color and Jewish people, and how our responses matter and set the course for our own lives and the nation. “It’s not what we have that gives us standing, but how we act,” he said.
Others spoke at the event, including: AACC Board of Trustees member Rev. Dr. Diane R. Dixon-Proctor, history Professor Lester S. Brooks, Ph.D.; Professor and Coordinator of human services Nicole Williams, Ph.D.; Student Government Association President Johnathan O’Dea and AACC Video Digital Media Developer Arnold Fuentes all spoke or read passages. Students’ Jenna Baker, William Kiethe and Ronald Rex-Williams performed at the beginning and end of the ceremony.
A number of volunteers pulled the event together over the span of a few weeks, spurred on by the August events in Charlottesville, Va. “Special thanks to the committee of staff and faculty who invested their talents and time to create such a meaningful opportunity,” Lindsay said.
Chris Mona, a professor in visual arts and humanities, was at the very start of the conversation around the vigil after he posted a sign at the base of the statue.
“What we did with the vigil is a very important statement to the community about where AACC stands,” he said. “The vigil is an important first step in honoring Dr. King's legacy and his message of unity and the importance of hearing all voices.”
When people filed into the vigil, they had been asked to write words of hope on balloons anchored around the college’s Martin Luther King Jr. statue. At the end of the evening, School of Health Sciences staff member Regina Macklin oversaw the “Illumination Ceremony,” where attendees linked hands, and raised them to the sky, repeating after her “I will rise above hate.” Balloons with – “One race: the human race,” “We are one” and “God is love” written on them – rose in the air before the ribbon tethering them to earth bounced them gently in the night sky.
“Now,” said Macklin. “Tell the people around you ‘We’re in this together.’”