After struggling with the sadness and anger she felt from watching the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minnesota policeman, Jennifer Maulfair felt the need to do something—even if that was to walk down her street to a Round Hill park, light a candle and reflect.
She shared the idea with fellow school teacher Tammy Pyle and they planned a small community gathering Wednesday night.
More than 300 people showed up at Poulsen Park.
After the crowd sat in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds—the amount of time Floyd was pinned to the ground while handcuffed—attendees were offered the opportunity to share their views. For nearly an hour, they did, expressing anger, sadness, worry, frustration and hope. They sang a song and read a poem. All of the words were shared through a small megaphone that likely didn’t carry their message to the fringes of the crowd of families spread across the field as they adhered to physical distancing protocols.
There were comments from parents and teens about the combination of relief and guilt they hold because they were unlikely to experience the fear of being pulled over by a cop that their black friends carry with them. There was the concern of a mother of a newly hired police officer who in her first weeks on the job was thrown into the dangers of the coronavirus and demonstrations. And a retired police sergeant who said 90 or 95 percent of officers do the right thing every day and that some even go out of their way to support the community members with whom they come in contact, but others require someone to stand up and challenge their inappropriate conduct; she said she had to do that and it hurt her career advancement.
One neighbor shared her fears about her sons who will soon be driving and the horror she feels that they could come into the news as Floyd did. She also spoke about the isolation minorities feel. “I have lived here for a year, I’ve run on the trail every day and the only time someone has said hello to me or the only time anyone has ever smiled at me, the only time someone has asked me how my day has been is during the last week,” she said. “That speaks volumes about people, in general. … It takes something like this for people to want to be friendly and act like they care.” She urged attendees to continue to break into the world of their minority neighbors after the current news cycle ends.
A 12-year-old told the crowd she was experiencing her first big world crisis. “I wasn’t here for 911 or anything else. Inside, I am afraid. I don’t want to die. My mother has darker skin and I don’t want her to die. I don’t want the rest of my family to die just because they are a different skin tone than me.”
“As an African-American man living in this county I can say it hasn’t been difficult, but where I grew up and where I came from has been a struggle at times and even today,” said a pastor who shared that he was worried about his bi-racial sons. “I still have to teach my boys how to survive in a society that doesn’t appreciate you because of the color of your skin.”
“We’ve lived here for 17 years and we’ve seen a lot of change, but tonight there is something different in the air,” he said.
The evening was disrupted by a small caravan that drove up and down the road beside the park displaying Trump flags. As the crowd dispersed one member from the vigil crowd, soon joined by others, stood in front of the trucks and displayed signs, stopping them in the street for a few moments.
For Maulfair, the event was much more than she could have imagined.
“A white person—mom, wife, teacher—we don’t know the pain of our black brothers and sisters and it is really up to us to figure it out. By standing up hopefully the visual of that will create some kind of comfort to people of color. I cannot stand on the wrong side of this. So, I just wanted to go somewhere and light a candle by myself.”