Hundreds at Long Island service, vigil reflect on Charlottesville

Newsday | 20 August 2017 | By Christine Chung and Valerie Bauman

Hundreds of Long Islanders gathered in prayer and at a vigil to reflect on recent events that have intensified a national dialogue on race relations.

In North Amityville, more than 150 people attended a community vigil and call to action against racism at Bolden Mack Park in North Amityville.

“Collectively as black people we are not doing enough in the movement,” organizer Shanequa Levin said. “Someone needs to step up: we need to be part of it.”

The vigil condemned racism and demonstrations like the one in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a counterprotester to neo-Nazi demonstrators was killed.

“Statues of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee have nothing to do with Southern heritage,” said Bishop Andy Lewter of the Hollywood Baptist Cathedral, drawing cheers from the crowd. “They are symbols of [white] supremacy and the triumph of segregation in the South.”

Sisters Rosemarie Dearing, of Copiague, and Delores Quintyne, of North Amityville, moved from Charlottesville to Long Island in the 1960s and 1940s, respectively.

Both said they were horrified and shocked by the demonstrations and loss of life over racial tensions.

“We thought the KKK and white supremacists had gone underground,” Quintyne said. “I was surprised to see the number of people who came out for that racist march in our hometown.”

Her sister said it was “horribly, unbelievable, shocking,” to watch the events unfold from Long Island, but it was an important reminder that racism is insidious.

And in Glen Cove, every pew of the city’s First Baptist Church was filled at a Sunday interfaith service.

Multiple faith leaders representing various congregations across the city delivered rousing speeches drawing upon religious texts, American history and the civil rights movement to address community fears and concerns in the wake of last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville.

“There is beauty in our diversity . . . and we will not let anyone limit our understanding of what and who our neighbors truly are,” said Rabbi Irwin Huberman, of Congregation Tifereth Israel. “The world and this country are so much stronger when we stand together as one.”

More than a hundred people of different faiths joined hands, singing “We Shall Overcome,” a gospel song that was an anthem of the civil rights movement.

Religious leaders urged the community to work toward effecting change by not just gathering and exchanging inspirational words, but to commit to improving themselves and their communities.

The Rev. Juanita Lopez of Iglesia Ciudad de Refugio said that “each one of us as Americans has to commit.”

“We are here together because we want unity,” Lopez said. “We have talked a lot, but we have to do it.”

Congregants said that they were inspired by the service, which featured not only hymns but also a rendition of the national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner.

Glen Cove residents Joe Watson, 69, and his best friend, Cynthia Bletter, 58, said that the service left them feeling joyful and empowered.

“It was so wonderful. I’ve never seen anything like this in 49 years in Glen Cove,” Watson said. “This was the greatest thing to happen on Sunday in Glen Cove.”

Diana Haber, 74, of Roslyn, said that Sunday’s balmy temperatures and clear skies couldn’t compete with Sunday’s service.

“It was a beautiful Sunday but that couldn’t match the spirit here,” Haber said. “It made me really feel like I belong in this country.”

Also on Sunday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and a contingent of faith-based leaders, including some from Long Island, called for unity.

“While Washington wavers, New York stands strong. In the face of hate, we will not stand idly by,” the group said in statement.