DANBURY, Conn. — Music filled the air and candles lit up the night as a large crowd gathered in front of the Danbury Library on Thursday evening for the Danbury Area Vigil for Compassion and Human Rights for All.
The group, made up of a variety of representatives from the local community, including pastors, students, activists and others, gathered in response to Donald Trump's victory in the presidential election.
"For many of us, this election cycle has been polarizing and many of the marginalized communities in the area do not feel safe. We are coming together, in solidarity, to show Danbury and our neighboring communities that hate is not representative of who we are," said a Facebook post promoting the event.
The event was organized by local residents Will Love and Justin Molito. Many people in the crowd held up signs and posters with messages of peace.
One speaker, the Rev. Shannon White from the Wilton Presbyterian Church, received a warm response from the crowd after announcing that she came as a symbol of peace in the aftermath of an incident involving Wilton High students who chanted "Build The Wall" at Danbury High players at a Nov. 11 football game.
“I came here not only as a pastor of a church in Wilton, I come as a mother of a first generation immigrant who was born in Moscow, and I come as a person who felt so badly when I heard about what had happened at our football game with Danbury, so I come as a symbol of building bridges," she said.
“That is not the tone of our community so I am here to bring words of hope and peace and friendship,” she said. “When an immigrant child cries as his classmates chant ‘Build The Wall,’ tears streamed down our cheeks too.”
Another speaker was the Rev. Phyllis J. ‘PJ’ Leopold, who leads Greater Danbury’s interfaith Association of Religious Communities.
Leopold spoke about trying to end suspicion, which, she said, is stronger than hate.
“It’s not just the hate that’s standing in our way. It’s suspicion — that psychological warfare that creates suspicion of people based on the pigment of their skin, on the accent of their speech, because of their religion or religious attire, and of couples based on who they love,” she said.
“Suspicion is what triggers fear and it’s very easy for suspicion to trigger stereotypes of neighbor, rather than love of neighbor."
Each time she said the word “suspicion,” the crowd got riled up.
Another speaker was Cantor Penny Kessler of the United Jewish Center in Danbury, who talked about the importance of standing up for one another.
She said that in the Torah, “We are commanded to not stand ideally by while our neighbors are threatened, while our neighbor bleeds. What is hateful to you do not do to anyone else,” she said. “The world must embrace the diversity of our uniqueness -- standing up for the human and civil rights of every human being.”
Speaker Glenda Armstrong, president of the local NAACP chapter, said the only way injustices in society will go away is if people speak up for their rights.
“Silence is a tremendous burden that people carry with them,” she said. “What we need to do is to raise our voices and raising our voices is the one thing that will assure our friends that we are with them.
“What shall we do? Raise our voices," she told the crowd.
And at these words, the crowd raised their own voices.
There will be a second event to promote peace, unity and justice on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Harambee Youth & Community Center, 54 West St., Danbury.