SOUTH BURLINGTON — About four dozen people attended a candlelight vigil Wednesday in front of City Hall, promoting a message of compassion, forgiveness and tolerance.
Residents sought forgiveness for Dan Emmons, the South Burlington man arraigned on stalking South Burlington High School senior Isaiah Hines, and Josiah Leach, 18, of South Burlington. Leach was arrested Friday and has been accused of threatening to injure South Burlington High School students and faculty.
Vicki Garrison, organizer of the event, told the crowd “even people who are causing a lot of pain in the community deserve our forgiveness.”
Garrison’s message was echoed by 18-year-old Hines and other speakers.
Hines spearheaded the effort to drop the Rebel nickname from sports uniforms and scoreboards, saying that its association goes back to the racist history of the Confederacy.
Hines is a student representative on the South Burlington School Board. He was allegedly stalked by Dan Emmons, a South Burlington resident opposed to the name change. Emmons pleaded not guilty in court earlier this month to the charge. He is slated to appear in court next month.
Hines was called to join the speakers on a small, grassy hill above the attendees. Andrea Viets, a Burlington resident, thanked Hines for his leadership on the Rebel name change.
“Isaiah stepped forward in courage and clarity, and that’s harder for teenagers than it is for adults,” Viets said.
Several of the vigil’s speakers told Hines that he “did all of our ancestors proud.”
During various parts of the vigil, Hines and his mother, Khrishna Hines, tightly clasped each other’s hands, with tears filling their eyes. Khrishna Hines said she was “absolutely” proud of her son’s advocacy work.
When it was Peter Lumholdt’s turn to take the microphone, the South Burlington High School senior said he “wasn’t proud to admit” that at one time he opposed the Rebel name change.
The controversial move away from the school nickname has splintered the community as the school district has grappled with the failure of two proposed school budgets and threats of violence.
Speakers at the vigil emphasized that while the Rebel name change was successful, that victory doesn’t erase the sting of pain inflicted by racism. “It’s not about the Rebel name, it’s about South Burlington’s future and our children’s future,” said Champlain Area NAACP President Mary Brown-Guillory. “We’re starting a new journey together.”
Brown-Guillory prayed out loud during the vigil, asking for an end to hatred and the end of violence. “I’m a spiritual being, and I’m going to ask you to join me in prayer,” she said.
As the evening wore on, vigil speakers and those attending the event formed a circle and sang, “We Shall Overcome,” a gospel hymn that came to wider prominence as a protest song and a key anthem of the civil rights movement.
Several feet away, two South Burlington Police officers silently watched the vigil. Lt. Shawn Demore said law enforcement was asked to be present at the event by vigil organizers.
Another unity event was held Wednesday night by the Rebel Alliance group at the South Burlington Police Department to thank police and the FBI for their efforts last week when threats prompted the early release for the high school and eventual closing of South Burlington School District schools last Friday.
On a public Facebook account said to be operated by the group, photos depicted people gathering at the Gregory Drive station.
Phone calls seeking comment from Jason Havers, who is believed to have posted the photos on the Facebook page, and to Marcia Coery went unreturned. South Burlington residents comment on the social media account said to be overseen by the Rebel Alliance group.
Another vigil is slated for May 2 at 11 a.m. near South Burlington High School. It will be sponsored by Black Lives Matter.