As the mother of two African-American sons, ages 1 and 3, Tasha Portley said she thinks about the conversations she'll need to have with her sons one day about the role race plays in society.

Mrs. Portley said hearing the news about the police-involved shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile made her feel "physically sick," and the subsequent news of the slaying of five Dallas police officers during a protest about Sterling and Castile's deaths only added to her pain.

But Mrs. Portley and others concerned about lives lost in police shootings took steps toward healing Tuesday night at the Vigil for Freedom, an event honoring the lives of 241 African Americans, Hispanics, members of the LGBT community and others who have died in police-involved shootings in the last year.

"As a person of color, I hope that we can begin to heal, but as a nation I think we can all agree that we have to unite," she said. "We have to see each other as human. It's vital."

The Vigil for Freedom was presented by My African American Mothers Alliance-East Texas (MAAMA), Rose City Doula, Pineywoods Voice, Tyler Transgender Support Group and World on My Shoulders.

Erricka Bailey, program director of My African American Mothers, had the idea for the vigil and began planning it after seeing news about the deaths of Sterling and Castile.

"I wanted a place for us to not necessarily protest or rally but for us to come together and love on each other, so that we can start to heal," Bailey said.

She quickly began planning the event, but the Thursday shooting that resulted in the deaths of five Dallas police officers changed many of the event's details, including a location change.

Originally planned for Bergfeld Park, organizers moved the vigil to a more intimate venue on East Erwin Street and asked attendees to RSVP in advance for the location. Organizers were concerned about safety and wanted to ensure the event stayed peaceful.

The vigil also became a time to recognize all of the tragedy of recent days and included recognizing the officers who died last week.

"I don't know why it happened," Bailey said. "I don't know what motivated it, but I know that more lives were lost, and that is not OK."

The vigil and candle lighting included the reading of names of those who have died in police-involved shootings. Attendees lit each other's candles, starting from a single flame as a symbol of the need to connect with one another.

Bailey said she was pleased to watch those who attended interact and enjoy each other's company.

"Already people are making new connections in the community with people who care about the same things as they already came here caring about," Bailey said. "I'm hoping they just build stronger relationships and maybe a greater awareness of an issue they might not have had awareness of before."

For Corey Valverde, who attended to show her support for the community, and to Bailey, that's exactly what happened.

"I needed to educate myself on the matters, and by coming here, that's the first step," Valverde said.

Twitter: @TMT_Augusta

 
 

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