Close to 200 people turned out for an anti-racism candlelight vigil at the Douglas County Courthouse on Saturday night to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Alana Lenihan of the Common Ground Coalition organized the event. She said she saw a need for people of color in the community to be heard.
“This gives them an opportunity to speak at this time, which I think is really important,” Lenihan said. “I think we’re on the precipice of some really big change, and those are the voices that we really need to be hearing.”
Speakers told of their brushes with racism and how they’ve had to deal with it throughout their lives. Others called for changes.
One speaker suggested starting with the Douglas County Courthouse.
“I just learned that I’m standing in front of this building which is named after a racist,” Chriset Palenshus said. “What are we going to do about that?”
The courthouse, and Douglas County, is named after Stephen A. Douglas, an Illinois senator sympathetic to slavery who ran against Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election.
Seth Spani and his wife Erika have an interracial marriage. They were excited for the community to come together for the cause.
“Sometimes it feels like being African-American, and interracial marriage, that we’re not always welcome, so seeing a big turnout, it brings tears to my eyes,” Erika Spani said. “Our family is a family just like everybody else, we don’t see color in our family.”
“I just love to see all these people that come to support black people because of the way they’re being treated, it makes me feel good,” 13-year-old Ahleya Spani said.
After the speakers, candles were lit to remember people who had been victims of racial violence. The crowd stood in silence for 8 minutes, 46 seconds to mark the period of time Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man whose death sparked anti-racism and police-brutality protests nationwide.
Joseph and Heather Villa and their 16-year-old daughter Sage, came to the vigil because they felt people shouldn’t remain quiet any longer about racism.
“People have remained quiet for so long, I just thought it was time to start making other voices heard,” Joseph Villa said.
“I came out to support people and to show people I care and love them,” Heather Villa said.
“It’s just the mindset that everyone is equal, and we need to come together to solve this problem,” Sage Villa said.
Lenihan said more than 500 people responded to the Facebook post advertising the demonstration and was thrilled with the turnout.