While practicing social distancing and with most attendees wearing masks, Northeast residents gathered on the 2500 block of Fillmore Street NE Friday evening to honor the life of George Floyd with a candlelight vigil. At least 50 residents attended the vigil to show support and encourage racial justice and equality.
Northeast resident Robyn Tabibi organized the vigil in hopes neighbors and other Northeast residents could come together and not only honor George Floyd’s life, but begin the discussion about how neighborhoods can start the difficult conversations around racism, inequities, and changing systemic discrimination. Tabibi felt strongly about organizing this not only because of Floyd’s untimely death, but because of the inequalities she sees in her daily work as a healthcare professional.
“I work primarily with an immigrant population and I see many issues of racism happening in my workplace,” Tabibi said before the vigil. “This has been highlighted by the pandemic and then this [death of George Floyd] happened. Thinking about months of daily reminders of what people of color and immigrants in this country go through and the racism and classism that is inherent in this society, was just another thing. I decided the vigil was something I could do in a day. Hopefully it will start a dialogue amongst my neighbors on the block about how we can affect change in our own little small sphere here in our homes, in our three-block radius, and beyond.”
Once Tabibi decided to organize the vigil, she printed flyers and had her children distribute the invitation over a four-block radius, as well as through a local church and into their old neighborhood off of Johnson Street NE.
“I think that this is a time of need for great learning for our community, particularly for those who don’t identify as people of color,” said Tabibi. “I wanted to leave this space open to hear everyone’s ideas and have people talk to their neighbors, form bonds, friendships, and maybe hear from people who we don’t normally get to hear from if they are willing to come out and give their ideas.”
At 7 p.m., the attendees at the vigil lit candles and stood for five minutes in silence to honor George Floyd. Many of the attendees wore masks and stood six feet apart to comply with social distancing. Some residents brought signs, while others wrote messages of hope with chalk on the sidewalks lining Fillmore.
For Nurya Shukre, who is a neighbor to Tabibi and considers herself a person of color, Floyd’s death has left her and her family with fear and ambiguity about the future. “I am scared because I have kids and I do not know what will happen tomorrow,” Shukre said at the vigil. “I don’t want this to happen again. I am so scared. I want these things to stop right now.”
Shukre believes that the white community and people of color must come together in order to address racism and work toward common goals. Shukre stated that her children are fearful because of Floyd’s death and have been asking, “What will happen tomorrow?”
Empowered to teach her own children about white privilege, racism, and the realities for people of color, Tabibi has had tough conversations with her children, with the intent to educate them about how inequality can lead to negative consequences for some, but not others.
“I decided long ago that they don’t get to be protected from issues of racial prejudice and racism,” Tabibi said. “I will expose them to everything that comes along with a few notable exceptions. That is because there is a privilege afforded to white children and they don’t have that [racism] staring in their face all the time. They get to ignore it if they want or if their parents choose. When this came up, that was not necessarily a foreign concept to them and I just kind of told them what happened. We talked about police brutality, white privilege, and the long history of institutional racism in this country to their level of understanding.”
With a future goal to organize more events and conversations about racial inequalities and find ways to bridge gaps between communities, Tabibi hopes that Friday’s vigil will inspire people to start participating in the journey for progressive human rights change.
“This is a process to dismantle this [racism] and create a world where people are not regarded and judged by the color of their skin, and not systematically denied opportunities in this world,” Tabibi said. “Wherever people are in this journey, hopefully they can pause, reflect, hear what other people have to say, and move forward by partnering with their neighbors and community to make this a place that is better for everyone and does not exclude people.”
Below: Matt Stoltman, Lena Zethraus, Namdol Choekyi, and Namgyal Tsesum. (Photo by Marla Khan-Schwartz)