Black Lives Matter vigils a nightly event in Shelburne Falls

  • Community members hold a nightly vigil Friday in solidarity with Black Lives Matter on the Buckland side of the Iron Bridge. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Community members hold a nightly vigil Friday in solidarity with Black Lives Matter on the Buckland side of the Iron Bridge. STAFF PHOTOS/DAN LITTLE

  • Community members hold a nightly vigil Friday in solidarity with Black Lives Matter on the Buckland side of the Iron Bridge. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Community members hold a nightly vigil Friday in solidarity with Black Lives Matter on the Buckland side of the Iron Bridge. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Community members hold a nightly vigil Friday in solidarity with Black Lives Matter on the Buckland side of the Iron Bridge. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Community members hold a nightly vigil Friday in solidarity with Black Lives Matter on the Buckland side of the Iron Bridge. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/14/2020 3:46:13 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — When Sonny Walters’ 7-year-old daughter saw clips of the news, night after night, of the national protests that erupted across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death, she wanted to do something.

“I explained it to her at a 7-year-old level,” Walters recalled. “And she said, ‘That’s not right.’”

George Floyd was a 46-year-old Black man who died at the hands of police on May 25 in Minnesota.

Walters’ said her daughter, Laila, wanted to hold a sign like she had seen so many others do. So, on one evening, the two stood with a few others on the sidewalk on the Buckland side of the Iron Bridge and held signs they had made together.

“I left in tears,” she said. “She didn’t know people were looking at her in disgust.”

Virtually from that night forward, a group of residents from the Shelburne Falls area have met every evening from 6 to 7 p.m., holding Black Lives Matter signs, as well as handmade posters with messages demanding justice, peace and equality.

As many as 10 to 12 people continue to show up on any given night. There’s no chanting on behalf of the participants; rather, the nightly vigils are instead about creating a space for “uncomfortable conversations,” Walters said.

“The more we see people that are resistant or wary to agree with any of the signs here, that makes us want to stand out here,” she said.

Joey Kotright, who organized a demonstration in solidarity with Black Lives Matter on the Iron Bridge in June, was among the residents to join Walters and her daughter during one of those first few vigils.

“It’s been every day since then,” he said. “We wanted to keep doing this because it’s an every day issue.”

As a local resident and the former vice principal of Mohawk Trail Regional School, Kotright said it can be hard to see the negative reactions the group sometimes receives from passersby. Sometimes they are shouted at; other times they’re flipped off.

“My little brown kids walk alone at night,” Kotright said. “This issue is right here, it’s not just a big city issue.”

Many at a recent vigil echoed the same sentiment.

“We are not immune to (racism) here … just because we’re in the Northeast,” said Marie Gauthier. “Our lack of diversity, especially in the smaller hilltowns, can make us unaware.”

Gauthier said she and her son Vincent, 14, hold signs because they are part of the community, and to show others that Black lives matter.

Piyali Summer attends the nightly vigils as often as she can.

“I’m a person of color, but not Black,” Summer said. “I come out here as an ally.”

Summer said she tries to find messages that aren’t polarizing. On Friday, she held sign with the phrase, “Make America safe for all.” She wants to talk to people, to have conversations, she said.

Both Walters and Kotright talked about other efforts they are engaging in, outside of the vigils, as part of their efforts toward making progress in justice and fairness in the community. In particular, they’ve organized a police accountability team and have reached out to the local police departments to start a conversation.

“I’m just trying to do the best by my daughter here in this town,” Walters said.

 

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Joey Kotright’s former place of work. He was previously the vice principal of Mohawk Trail Regional School. 

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne




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