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About 500 Gather in Downtown Akron to Mark Charlottesville and Call for An End to Racism

WKSU public radio
About 500 people gathered in downtown Akron Wednesday night to mark the violence in Charlottesville and call for an end to racism.

About 500 people gathered in downtown Akron last  night for a candlelight vigil honoring Heather Heyer and calling her death a potential catalyst for ending racism.

The vigil and rally included the iconic sounds of the civil rights movement and evoked the images of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. But speakers, including former state senator and Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner, dwelled most on Heather Heyer, the young woman killed last weekend as she protested the gathering of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

“When we look in the mirror, we are Heather. That everything this young woman stood for and fought for is worth fighting for generation, after generation, after generation.”

Candles lit
Credit M.L. SCHULTZE / WKSU public radio
The vigil focused on Charlottesville and included questions about why Ohioans were among the white supremacists who played such key roles in the weekend events. A similar rally was held in Medina last night, and one is scheduled for Kent tonight.

Sunny Matthews, a diversity trainer in Akron, says yesterday's funeral for Heather Heyer  added poignancy and urgency to the Akron gathering.

Matthews on call to action

“And it seemed like her mom was trying to push us to recognize that this was a rally call. This was our chance to be like, ‘No we will not let hate win, no we will not let her die in vain.’ So I wanted to be a part of this in a way that would encourage people to stay active in this work and not (be) discouraged.”

There were a smattering of signs -- and some comments -- disparaging President Donald Trump. But most of the rally focused on the need for local efforts to battle racism, including working with isolated young men who may be ripe for recruitment by white nationalists.

'Everything this young woman stood for and fought for is worth fighting for generation, after generation, after generation.'

Zach Freidhof of the Big Love Network said the victims of violence include those swinging the clubs.

Freidhof on hate's toll

“Whether its fear or whether it’s just culture that’s been taught to people for a very long time, it’s very sad to see that people will let that rule their lives and the pain it inflicts on everyone else as well as themselves.”

  And Akron Councilwoman Tara Moseley Samples spoke of the battle as personal more than political.

Samples: Not a Democratic or Republican fight

“Not every Republican who voted for Donald Trump is condoning that mess. Now we’ve got to quit trying to blame Democrats, quit trying to blame Republicans. This is a people issue. This is a problem, this is right vs. wrong, not D vs. R.” 

A similar rally was held in Medina last night, and one is planned for Kent tonight.