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Vigil in honor of Ferguson focuses on positive action
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The Rev. Thurman Echols speaks Tuesday at a vigil held in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Mo., where Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old, was shot to death Aug. 9 by a police officer. Brown, who was black, was unarmed at the time. About 50 people took part in the vigil at the farmers market in uptown Martinsville. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

A prayer vigil and discussion were held Tuesday as a peaceful show of solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Mo., in light of the recent shooting of an unarmed black teenager and disturbances that followed.

About 50 people, including speakers, attended the 6 p.m. event at the Martinsville Farmers Market. The local NAACP sponsored the event.

The Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Michael Brown Jr., 18, of Ferguson, by a Ferguson police officer has caused a national debate over race and law enforcement.

Martinsville City Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge said in an interview, “We do not feel police-community relations (in Martinsville) is like it is in Ferguson. The police department (here) respects blacks.”

“We are one community,” said Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the Martinsville-Henry County NAACP.

She and the Rev. Thurman Echols, pastor of Moral Hill Baptist Church in Axton, stressed that Tuesday’s event was a prayer vigil and discussion, not a protest.

“We are proactive,” Echols said.

In her opening remarks, sometimes speaking generally, Hodge-Muse said, no group should be relegated to second-class, regardless of race or ethnicity. “Everybody is a person.”

“We need prayer and reconciliation,” she said.

“Is there racism?” she asked at one point. “Yes, President Obama gets talked about like a dog every day.”

She asked people in the crowd if they think they are any better than the president.

“Get over it,” she urged.

Hodge-Muse also urged people to stand up to injustice — to “speak truth to power “ — but to do it nonviolently.

Getting a good education and taking advantage of opportunities in life also are very important, she said.

She also stressed the importance of voting. “The vote counts.”

“Tragedy draws us together. I believe something good can come out of tragic situations,” said Eric Hairston of the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, who also is a minister.

He pointed out that the sheriff’s office has been trying to hire more minorities and women.

“We need to be representative of our community,” he added.

The sheriff’s office wants to recruit within the community but also may need to go to some historically black colleges and universities, Hairston said.

Martinsville Police Officer Coretha Gravely has worked for the city department for 23 years. She oversees dozens of area Neighborhood Watch groups.

She said she treats people the way she wants to be treated — with respect. She likes helping people, and she also urges young people to get a good education and career.

Curtis Millner, who represents the Iriswood District on the Henry County School Board, cited the need for more minority members on local governmental and school boards. That way, boards would be representative of the people, he said.

He also said there is a problem locally and throughout the nation finding minority teachers. “I don’t mean getting unqualified people just to have (racial) representation,” he said.

Sharon Brooks Hodge cited the need for more minorities to register and vote, to get involved in the political process and to run for office. Martinsville’s population is 45 percent African-American and 6 percent Hispanic, yet she is the only African-American on city council, she said.

“People like us do not step up,” she said. Civil rights carries with it civic responsibility, she added.

Chad Martin talked about the dangers that law enforcement officers face carrying out their duties.

Echols said in hiring law enforcement officers, recruiting officers who are well trained, respectable and disciplined to protect is more important than race or gender.

He also said officers need to be trained in diversity sensitivity.

Nationally, Echols said, “... We’re fighting among ourselves. We’ve got to change the dynamics.”

“I think that we can work out our differences. ... (The biblical prophet) Isaiah says, Come, let us reason together,” Echols said.

Events similar to the peace vigil and discussion need to be held periodically, Echols said. He feels Ferguson, Mo., waited until something happened.

Minister James Hagwood of Agape Bible Christian Fellowship prayed for such things as peace, unity, healing, justice, restoration, families, working together, lifting up young people and building the community.

Minister Malvester Muhammad of Nation of Islam said he believes problems could be solved if the focus is on improving behaviors, not on race.

He said many youths do not vote because they have no hope.

About eight law enforcement officers were present, two of whom were speakers.

A similar event will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Jordan Creek Shelter in Fieldale.


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