Asheville social justice supporters held a vigil for Jacob Blake, the Black father of six who was shot seven times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Aug. 23.
Organizers said they held the vigil to celebrate Jacob Blake surviving his violent encounter and to grieve the lost lives of others who didn’t survive similar situations.
“We’ve been seeing all throughout the summer how there has been organized action based around Black people dying, so this was a really beautiful, important and necessary time to plan and organize an action about a life that was not taken and a life that is still here,” said Bryan Thompson, a youth program coordinator for Youth Outright and a volunteer for AVL for Justice.
According to Thompson, the vigil carried a great importance for the community.
“To create spaces for my people to heal and for my people to grieve and for my people to be seen and heard as actual human beings and to be loved and know that they’re loved,” Thompson said.
Hundreds of people from around the area brought flowers to the West Asheville Public Library parking lot to show support for Jacob Blake and hear the words of the speakers who organized the event.
“We thought it would be a great time to come together and to invite people of color in the area to heal in one space and also to educate and hold accountable the white people who came to the event,” LaKyla Hodges said, a member of Black Student Union and program developer for the Center for Community Engagement at Warren Wilson College.
The organizers of the vigil took turns speaking to the crowd of mostly white supporters, airing their grievances.
“The fact that so many non-Black people showed up just made it a great opportunity for us to really show our raw emotion behind it and try to drive some messages home that I feel like we don’t prioritize the most because when we’re organizing against police brutality in the city that we live in, a main talking point of ours probably isn’t going to be how much we are hurt,” Hodges said.
“I think it showed that, yes, we’re angry, but we’re also grieving. There’s a lot of hurt and pain that goes into this organizing and standing up for yourselves and showing up and being this small minority of maybe 10 black people in front of 500-plus white people standing all in front of you, in a town where it already doesn’t feel too welcoming for black and brown people in the area,” she said.
Organizers used the event to talk to white supporters about their role in the social justice movement. Speakers called to account those who ally with the social justice movement to push for more action.
“I feel like since 2015 or 2016 the word ‘ally’ has become almost like a Boy Scout badge for white people to put on whenever there’s a resurgence of the civil rights movement,” Hodges said.
“Everyone wants to be an ally and people put it in their Tinder bios and their Instagram bios. How many allies can there really be because things aren’t really changing that much for us.” the 21-year-old said.
Hodges said Asheville is a predominantly white area and will require a lot of help from people willing to be allies.
“There’s no point in claiming allyship or calling yourself an ally if you’re not willing to help carry the load and bear some of the weight,” she said.
One of the white allies who helped organize the event gave their perspective of the evening and why they chose to help.
“As a medic it is my goal to create a safe space for Black people to promote change in their community and feel like they can express themselves,” Alex Williams said, a volunteer for AVL for Justice.
“I feel like from a white perspective it was asserting that safe space for self-expression and confronting white allies about their involvement in the movement and being able to speakfreely as a black person without having to censor oneself for white comfort,” Williams said.
The organizers said the vigil was a success and aim to provide more opportunities for people of color in the community to speak freely and garner more support.
“I think the more we talk, the more we might agree on things or the more we might come to understand one another,” Williams said.
“Equity is not taking away from others, it’s just giving the disenfranchised groups what others have already had, and had for years,” Hodges said.