Franklin Park resident Carla Johns calls herself a “behind-the-scenes person” who “doesn’t like being front and center.” So it was a challenge for her to step up and organize a candlelight vigil for George Floyd – but she did it and it was just what this community (and this attendee) needed.
Carla began posting this notice on local Facebook groups and just that – plus word of mouth – led to an impressive turn-out of an estimated 200 people. So how did she do it?
By phone Carla told me how she organized the vigil, all steps that took out of her comfort zone.
First she mentioned her interest in organizing a vigil to a local Facebook group and that prompted a Greenbelt police officer to contact her. He put her in touch with the police chief, who gave the event his approval.
How did finding the speakers? “I’m not an influential person in Greenbelt, so I didn’t know what to do.” But she’s friends with Greenbelt activist Ric Gordon, who’d been part of a 3-person vigil at Beltway Plaza, and she asked him to lead everyone in prayer. Then it was Rick who reached out to Greenbelt Mayor Colin Byrd, who agreed to participate.
I asked how she connected with the drummers and learned that she’d met Shobha Duncan at a related event and it was Shobha who put her in touch with drumming facilitator extraordinaire Katy Gaughan.
Finally, I asked Carla how she, as a white woman, came to be so passionate about police brutality and learned that she’s the mother of two biracial children, and that at-risk members of her family include a brother-in-law and son-in-law who are black. And her “greatest set of friends are at higher risk, as well.” So George Floyd’s murder hit very close to home for her.
Though her first choice was to have the vigil in Franklin Park, she knew the turn-out would be greater in Roosevelt Center.
Mayor Byrd’s remarks were, to this observer, just right for the solemn occasion. They included the news that he’d signed President Obama’s Mayor’s Pledge, but that some state laws stand in the way of needed change here in Greenbelt. So, action is needed next in Annapolis.
Sounds and Scenes of the Vigil
Drumming leader Katy Gaughan wrote to me that “It was an honor to offer a drum circle to honor the Black and Brown lives of those taken by police and gun violence. Saying their names and drumming the heartbeat together was, as Carla Johns (organizer of the event) said, “sadly beautiful.” I was glad to see the community gather and lift our voices together to say “Black Lives Matter!” I am hopeful that we are at a moment where real change in our culture is possible.”
Kristen Arant and Joe Kennedy, Jr. helped lead participants in drumming and chanting.
Carla told me that LaWann Stribling is organizing a vigil this coming Saturday along Hanover Parkway in East Greenbelt. Sure enough – on Facebook LaWann wrote:
Remember: Reach out to someone when you feel like you’ve had enough. If you’re not comfortable with that, excuse yourself and take a walk. It’s all about communication and compromise. Remember to have patience with the little people and others, be caring, offer help when you can, keep your faith and pray for those suffering right now.
Photos by Katy Gaughan, Shobha Duncan and the author. Video by Shobha Duncan and the author.