Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
— excerpt from Lift Every Voice & Sing
In recent weeks, our community, like so many others, has been mourning, taking action, and trying to heal.
This inspired an idea to truly bring the Summer Search community together, offering a space to honor George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, James Scurlock, and the ever-growing list of Black and Brown people who have died because of violence and racism.
Envisioned by Sylvia Watts McKinney, Summer Search Philadelphia Executive Director, and supported by Hermese Velasquez (Boston ED and alumna), Kris Leja (Bay Area ED), and many others across our network, our team moved quickly to create a Community Vigil Series — a three-part series of virtual events to come together focusing on healing, education, and action.
“A small seed was planted and has become a garden,” Sylvia explains. “We planned a network- and community-wide event with 14 speakers — east and west students, alumni, staff, and volunteers), including music and poetry in less than 72 hours.”
Thank you to all who shared their voices, words, and emotions in our first virtual gathering, centered on healing. We invite you to read some of the remarks from our community, listed below. You can also watch the full vigil here and fill out this form to be notified about our upcoming vigils.
In order of appearance:
Tamar St. Julien — Summer Search Boston Staff
Tamar, who is also a professional singer in her free time, opened the vigil with a beautiful rendition of “Lift Every Voice & Sing,” one of the most cherished songs of the Civil Rights Movement, often referred to as the Black National Anthem.
Marc Spencer – CEO
“Until we end racial inequity, we cannot accomplish education, health, economic, or social equity. We have the unprecedented opportunity to address and dismantle systemic and institutional racism — head on and boldly!”
Teke Kelley – National Board Chair
“Each Summer Searcher is a brilliant light in the current darkness. I gain strength from these powerful young people and the example they set.”
Pamela Lehrer – Philadelphia Board Chair
“I believe we are at an inflection point in our history where real change can happen. But I believe it will take not only People of Color standing up for justice and equality. It also will require White people to truly commit to the lifelong work of becoming anti-racist. I urge you all to join me in this effort. We can do better, and we must do better.”
Adebola “Debbie” Aderinto – Philadelphia Alumna & Boston Board Member
“As an attorney, I am constantly infuriated by the way the laws of this country are disproportionally applied – we see that in the school-to-prison pipeline, we see that in hiring, we see that in retention… we see that in every facet of the American life.”
Daijon Jackson – Bay Area Student
“We already watched as Eric Garner cried out ‘I can’t breathe’ and his killer was let off without an indictment. They always say never again but what now? And it is awful that in the midst of a global pandemic, a time where the world is feeling the same pain, patients are refusing aid from health workers of color, minorities are dying disproportionately to COVID-19, minority-owned businesses are overlooked in relief bills, Black lives are disregarded, and the literal foundation of liberty in our country is damaged as our leader threatens to use American soldiers to silence us and force us into submission.”
Vigil speakers Debbie, Daijon, Sheakira, and Ekua.
Ekua Monkah – Seattle Alumna
“This is why I believe that Black love and Black joy can be one of the forces to overpower racism. As a young Black woman going through all these emotions, I plan to channel them into revolutionary ideas and actions. I believe we need to abolish the current police system and reinvest funds into critical services for the Black community.”
Sheakira Perry-West – New York City Mentor
Sheakira opened by sharing a poem from one of her students, Aaron R. Here are a few lines from that piece:
My people are tired of the silence, told to be quiet
So now they riot
Through all the pain, dread, ‘n bloodshed
Please Mr. Police Officer,
Tell me why oh, why was I the one who winded up dead?
After reflecting on her own experience as a Black woman, mother, and mentor, Sheakira brought her focus back to her students:
“I’m thinking about how much our students face fighting an inequitable and broken system, yet how much joy they bring to those around them. About the beauty they cultivate and the care they have in their hearts. All the power we possess within. So while we say their names… our names, let’s also share their art, let’s read their poems, and honor their words we ask them to share. We’ll say Black Lives Matter, until they do.”
Kris Leja — Bay Area Executive Director
“Summer Searchers need to see that they have agency in their future. That they are leaders in their communities. That despite what’s happening today has happened for centuries, their future is their own hands and they can and will thrive.”
Hermese Velasquez — Boston Executive Director & Alumna
“Summer Search students and alumni… as a collective, we are defining this movement. Just as young people defined the Civil Rights Movement more than 60 years ago, young people made our nation face our history of oppression and exclusion and they helped us move toward a more just and equitable future.”
Peter Retzlaff — New York City Executive Director
“This work is hard and long overdue, and it is time for it to be as prominent among White folx as it has been for generations of People of Color. We must fight together.”
Reverend Carla Jones Brown — Volunteer
“We share this moment together. We share this breath together. It is with our breath that we say their names. It is with our breath that we cry, we wail, and we lament. It is with our breath that we laugh and we share joy. It is with our breath that we protest and we live. Let’s join our breath in this moment.”
Alex Oliva — Volunteer
Alex, who is the son of Philadelphia board member Charles Oliva, closed out the event by singing an acoustic version of Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need of Love Today.”