Peaceful protest planned in Oxford on Saturday

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2016

After LaToya Faulk confided in her friend, Rachel Johnson, about her feelings of pain and frustration over recent national events involving police shootings of African Americans and the murder of the police officers in Dallas, the two realized others would most likely be dealing with the same sorrow.

They decided the best way for a community to heal was for its citizens to come together and lean on each other for support while allowing their voices to be heard under the soft glow of candlelight.

The two women, along with several other friends, have organized a Candlelight Vigil and Peaceful Protest to take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday in front of City Hall on the Square.

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“We both wished there was a way for us to come together with other members of our Mississippi community,” Johnson said. “No one should feel isolated at a time like this, and so much misunderstanding derives from feeling alone in your own little bubble.

I thought that if we created a space for people to assemble, that we could combat that isolation.”

Faulk said after watching videos of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling final hours, she couldn’t stop crying and had trouble sleeping. Knowing Johnson had recently organized an event in Tupelo to honor those killed in the Orlando bar shooting, she could help organize something similar in Oxford.

Once the word got out about their effort, others in the community were willing to help get the vigil rolling.

“It felt reassuring to know that there were others who shared my concerns and were willing to help in any way they could,” Faulk said. “Several people from our community have donated candles, and provided resources and suggestions as we sought the event permit.”

The women praise Oxford Police Officer Johnny Sossaman in helping them obtain the necessary permit for the vigil and providing them information regarding the use of a sound system on the Square.

Once the logistics were accomplished, the two women and their volunteers are now simply trying to spread the word to the Oxford, Lafayette and University of Mississippi communities.

Events planned

The event will begin with time for people gather at City Hall and begin talking to one another. There will be time for prayers, poetry readings, songs and peaceful fellowship. Blues singer Effie Burt will sing an original song about peace and transformation.

Other performers are being confirmed, as well as a local pastor to lead the group in prayer and a moment of silence.

Candles will be handed out and lit during the vigil.

Faulk said another friend jokingly called her an activist for organizing the vigil.

“I really don’t consider myself an activist,” Faulk said. “I’m just  a concerned human being who felt like something needed to happen to bring the community together in some way. In other words, it really doesn’t matter who you are. We all have the ability to foster and initiate change in hopes of making this world better.”

Fostering conversation

Faulk and Johnson hope the event helps foster a sense of community and perhaps some may think of ways to use their energy and emotions toward productive solutions.

“So much of what happens in our society gets litigated on social media behind a computer screen,” Johnson said. “I’d like for people to meet their neighbors and community members and have real conversations.”

Sometimes living in Oxford, residents are shielded from things happening in other parts of the country, Faulk said.

“This is a very small town,” she said. “It isn’t enough to continue on with business as usual when people in this country feel hopeless, or are hurting because their loved one was unexpectedly taken from them. My heart goes out to the families of (Castile and Sterling) and also the families of the officers who died in Dallas. Violence isn’t the answer, and we must find a safe space to grieve, then get to work. Change in a collective endeavor.”

No hateful speech or words promoting violence will be allowed at the event.

For more information, visit the Candlelight Vigil and Peaceful Protest event on Facebook.