Vigil honors the victims of the recent Atlanta killings

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ARYN LEE/SAGAMORE STAFF

On March 26 at 4 p.m. community members gathered at the high school to honor the victims of the recent racially-motivated shootings in Atlanta. The vigil featured many guest speakers who shared their experiences of hate and advocated for change

Flowers and candles adorning the steps of the high school, passionate speakers, signs expressing resilience, emotional moments of silence: all things abundant at the vigil to honor the victims of the Atlanta shooting.

Starting at 4 p.m. on Friday, March 26, community members gathered at both the 115 Greenough campus and online to honor those who lost their lives ten days prior. This act of violence targeting the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, specifically AAPI women, inspired leaders in Brookline to organize an event for all community members to show solidarity with the victims.

The vigil commenced with Class of 2019 alumni Ashley Eng delivering a speech addressing the relationship between the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and a rapid increase in violence directed towards the AAPI community.

Eng said this new wave of violence and its subsequent acts of hate have invoked fear in the AAPI community regarding their safety and wellbeing in public and at home.

“Racial slurs were directed at us, physical objects were thrown at our face, acid was poured on our face, we were dragged across the street, our faces were slashed, our elders were attacked, the subway became a danger zone and we could not even walk on the street without fear of being attacked,” Eng said.

Signs with messages such as “hate is a virus” mirrored Eng’s sentiment, as did many other speakers’ themes that correlated COVID-19 with the surge in racial violence against the AAPI community.

Many, including Select Board candidate Miriam Aschkenasy, said these acts of violence were also results of other forces at play.

“It’s very important that we call out the white supremacy here. We saw almost immediately the media try and reframe what happened as a sexual addiction, or oftentimes what we see as mental health issues. This is white supremacy and misogyny. It’s plain and simple. Let’s call it what it is,” Aschkenasy said.

Junior Yuki Hoshi said she had a very emotional reaction to an email sent by Head of School Anthony Meyer the previous week regarding the shooting and hate toward the AAPI community.

“When I received the email from Mr. Meyer last week in response to the shootings, I broke. The tears came and they would not stop,” Hoshi said.

Meyer heard this message loud and clear and reflected on his role as a leader in the Brookline community and his responsibility to speak up for injustices. Meyer said the absence of such a response in the past may explain of the reaction of Hoshi and others.

“My letter impacted her , but honestly I think that was because I hadn’t written and said more. When our former president was saying things, I should have come out as a leader more in support of our Asian-American students,” Meyer said.

The vigil was well attended by both AAPI members and allies. Aschkenasy said the importance of people not in the AAPI community stepping up is crucial for change and called for allies to do more.

“I think it’s important that we don’t just give lip service to our antiracism work. It’s an activity; it’s something we have to do actively. We have to learn to be good allies,” Aschkenasy said. “I think it’s very important to show both in heart and in action the support for our neighbors and our community members.”

Standing at the front of the crowd holding a sign that read, “today we mourn, tomorrow we act,” snior Melanie Chernin said this vigil is a major step for her community in anti-racism work.

“It is one of the first times that we have come together as a school to recognize Asian-American hate and racism. I think it is important that we as a community stop overlooking prejudice and hate crimes against Asian-Americans and look at it as what it is: a major problem,” Chernin said.

Following student speakers, Asian-American senior citizens took the mic and shared their own message. One speaker said their frustration at seeing patterns of racism repeat themselves throughout their lifetimes was important to consider.

“We are senior citizens, and this is deja vu. We are seeing a war waged against Americans of ancestry; people using hateful language, using force, using lethal weapons, much of it directed at women and at the elderly. We are scared. We feel as if there is a target on our backs,” the speaker said.

Shortly after, junior Jia Yi and her family stood on the front steps and delivered their message of solidarity with the victims of the shooting through a powerful musical performance.

Following these performances, ten students, holding pictures of each of the victims killed in Atlanta, stepped up to the mic and shared intimate details about each person who lost their life. After these touching remarks, the students asked attendees to share a moment of silence honoring each victim. The event then ended with a final moment of silence for all victims.

Eng left the audience with a powerful message.

“We are here to bring life to their names, lift up their hopes and dreams, their histories and stories. These victims are real people with real lived experiences. They have families, friends and communities who love them,” Eng said, “To the Asians and Asian-Americans who are with us today, whatever you are feeling is valid. Be gentle with yourselves and give yourselves the space you need. We are here to navigate these dark times together.”