2017-08-17 / Front Page

Local Rally Against White Supremacy

By Christopher Allen

With the nation anxiously eyeing the unrest unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday, where clashes between white nationalists and counter demonstrators continued through the weekend, dozens of local people rallied in Washington Square on Sunday evening in solidarity with those affected by racial injustice.

In Charlottesville, one person was killed during the counter protests on Saturday, and many others were injured when a man drove his vehicle into a crowd of people.

The Newport “Rally Against White Supremacy” was announced Sunday morning on social media. Grassroots activist Melody O'Brien, of Newport, unveiled the theme of the evening, that citizens must put apathy aside and become active in their communities to combat injustice. “I don’t want my child living in this kind of society,” she said. “I don’t want to live in that kind of society.”

Newport City Councilor At-Large Jamie Bova reiterated the call to activism. Noting the spirit of solidarity, she struck a cautionary tone. “This is not enough,” she said.

Asked how local government can work to improve social relations, Bova said, “It’s what I’ve been saying all along; communication, engagement and listening. We have so many passionate people here in Newport that care about the future of our city. I see what is happening in Charlottesville and other places and don’t want it to happen here.”

Members of the Sankofa Community Connection, a local anti-racist nonprofit, mobilized throughout the day. By 7 p.m., Eisenhower Park held a mix of political activists, concerned citizens and local politicians.

Seneca Pender, chairman of Sankofa, read a stirring essay outlining the history of political and racial violence and the unwillingness to label such acts as terrorism.

"What happened in Charlottesville isn't new. It's a despicable tradition of intimidation and fear and it must be stopped," Pender said.

Dr. Jordan Miller, coordinator of Spiritual and Religious Life and a visiting professor of Religion at Wheaton College, spoke against racial supremacy. “I’m angry. I’m not hateful,” said Miller, who is a leading member of Sankofa. “Racism is a tumor; it must be eradicated.”

The Newport resident rebuked the reemerging white nationalist movement. “White supremacy is white responsibility,” he said.

He also pointed out the detached attitude of many privileged Americans. “Our ancestors built [white supremacy],” he said. “We benefit from it.”

Closing with a proclamation, he called on local and state governmental authorities to affirm values of inclusion and equality, declaring Newport “a city of welcome, sanctuary and refuge for anyone in need.”

Miller spoke afterward about his work with Sankofa. Formed after the November election to combat the uptick in hostile racial incidents, the group meets monthly to plan events and gather data that can be used to swiftly respond on a local level. Sankofa has multiple programs to promote civic engagement, specifically in urban environments.

“When white supremacy expresses itself in a public way, silence is assent. You are a part of it,” Miller said.

In attendance was Rep. Lauren Carson. Carson said that it was important for citizens to know their representatives are aware of national trends that may affect them locally. “I knew there would be Newport folks there who are disturbed [by recent events],” she said. “Elected officials understand what’s going on and are equally disturbed.”

Carson recommended steps to help prevent the racial tension from happening here. “It’s important and useful to have ongoing dialogue in our community and to deal with issues before they happen on an exaggerated level,” she said.

Local musician David Passafiume Jr. was also in Washington Square to offer support. As many in the gathering remained in Eisenhower Park afterward to converse, Passafiume acknowledged the importance of simply showing up. “I meet many people through music,” he said. “[It’s important] to especially tell minorities in our community that we are here. And it’s good to see familiar faces.”

Other rallies have been held throughout the country, with many more planned in the coming days. Newport Police Sgt. Joseph Carroll told Newport this Week that the department had no incidents to report. “As we expected, the rally was very peaceful,” he wrote in a statement.

Unrest Prompts Prayer

Prompted by the recent events in Charlottesville, Paul Hoffman, pastor of Evangelical Friends Church of Newport, knew he could not stand idly by.

Hoffman, along with other community faith leaders, has issued a public invitation to unite in prayer against hatred. The group will gather peacefully at Newport City Hall on Sunday, Aug. 20, at 6 p.m., sharing a moment of silence in memory of Heather Heyer, followed by a time in united prayer.

All are encouraged to attend. For those who are not able to attend, Hoffman asks that all rally in place and join them in prayer.

Return to top