For community vigil and soccer game, the goal was unity

  • Groups of four different teams played soccer to open the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord, on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at Keach Park. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Adolphe Pogba practices before the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord, on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at Keach Park on the Heights. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Nzanzu Katehero, 5, arrives at the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord on Tuesday at Keach Park on the Heights. Katehero played on the sidelines during the games. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Katherine Venturini with the painting ‘Black Lives Matter’ she painted at the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord, on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Adolphe Pogba (right) moves the ball upfield during the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord on Tuesday at Keach Park on the Heights. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Mikel Timm gets ready to play soccer at the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at Keach Park on the Heights.  GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The four soccer teams get ready to play at the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at Keach Park on the Heights.  GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Patrick Habimana greets his friend Mikel Timm at the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at Keach Park on the Heights. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A group of participants listens to the speakers talk about systemic racism during the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord, on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at Keach Park on the Heights. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • UNH student Jane Yen dances to music before the vigil started on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Yen was one of the speakers and spoke about escaping the war in South Sudan and then finding racism as she grew up in the United States. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Participants in the soccer game at the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at Keach Park on the Heights. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Participants listen to the speakers at the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The crowd at the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at Keach Park on the Heights. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Mikel Timm and his girlfriend, Aaliyah Kwizera, get their candles lit for the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Mikel Timm and his girlfriend, Aaliyah Kwizera with their candles  at the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord June 23, 2020.  GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Mikel Timm raises his fist at the Vigil and Soccer Game to Combat Systemic Racism and Segregation in Concord June 23, 2020.  GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/24/2020 3:51:18 PM

The soccer fields at Keach Park on Tuesday night became a microcosm for the national struggle for unity, respect and racial equality.

As dozens of young people gathered for a vigil for Black Lives Matter after a friendly game of soccer, Black attendees stuck mostly to one side, and white to the other. Families and friend groups were their own islands. Some who came to the event alone straggled on the far corners of the crowd, watching from a distance.

“Even here, I’m looking around and I don’t see integration,” said Ayi D’Almeida, the Change for Concord member leading the vigil.

Immediately, the crowd mixed, visitors of all ages and backgrounds resettling to sit side-by-side. Just like that, they had found the unity that had brought them there in the first place.

The evening was planned as a chance to bring fractured communities together, but also to address racism and police conduct in Concord and across the country.

About an hour and a half before the vigil, attendees took to the fields for a soccer game, one of the planned events for the night. Others socialized by the basketball courts and picnic area, or settled on blankets in the grass to watch.

A handful of volunteer peacekeepers sporting neon vests meandered the crowd, checking in with visitors now and then. Other community members went around collecting trash, passing out masks and offering water bottles.

Samrawit Silva, one of the event’s peacekeepers, watched as visitors mingled around her.

“It’s so beautiful to watch the interaction,” she said.

Not far from Silva, Katherine Venturini sat with a painting she made depicting several black historical figures and victims of police brutality. Among them were George Floyd, Trayvon Martin and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“When I looked into their eyes I could feel their emotions, and that’s what I wanted to portray in this painting,” she said.

Ken Barnes, a retired civil rights lawyer, was also a peacekeeper that evening. In his free time since retiring, he said he’s had more time to volunteer and attend rallies.

“I’ve been captured by the Black Lives Matter movement since Ferguson,” he said.

Barnes said he’s seen Concord diversify in the decades since he moved to the city. But geographic segregation is still a serious problem, he said, with many of the city’s people of color living in the Concord Heights neighborhood, while white residents settle around the State House and in the more rural parts of the city.

Myles Luongo, an 18-year-old Concord native, said this geographic segregation also lends itself to social division.

“You can feel it in the separation of who people are with,” he said.

As a young black man living in a predominantly white city, Luongo said he rarely experiences overt racism first-hand, but still encounters prejudice in the form of micro-aggressions.

Luongo recalled his first driver’s test, when his instructor automatically failed him for not stopping at a yellow light. When Luongo asked why he failed, the instructor said a cop would have pulled him over because he was a “suspicious figure.”

After the soccer game, the crowd gathered for a vigil to remember victims of police brutality. A series of speakers, many from Concord’s refugee community, shared their personal experiences with racism and called for reform. Volunteers passed out candles and D’Almeida led the crowd in protest chants.

One of the speakers, Jane Yen, spoke about what it was like for her to immigrate to the U.S. as a refugee from South Sudan.

“I’ve been here for 17 years, and yet I’m not used to it,” Yen said.

Coming to the United States was a “blessing,” Yen said, but she wasn’t prepared to feel unwelcome here. At school, peers made comments about her skin color and made her feel like she didn’t belong. For a long time, she struggled with her self image.

“I hated the skin I am in,” she said.

Luongo also spoke at the vigil, invoking those gathered to see the candles not just as a way to honor lives lost, but as a symbol of their commitment to a better future.

“No matter the name, we will light a candle so that the future will be brighter,” he said. “So that the next generation can look back and see that the start of the tunnel is still lit.”

Afterwards, volunteers read the names of over 30 police brutality victims, from George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner to Janet Wilson, Jordan Edwards and Rayshard Brooks. Between each name, they  paused for a moment of silence.

Many kneeled, fists raised in solidarity. Others sat cradling their candles. The crowd was still.


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