'Seeds sown, weeds to pull': Portland memorial decries racism, violence

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PORTLAND — An estimated 1,300 people gathered at Merrill Auditorium on Monday to honor the victims of the June 17 shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The “Lift Every Voice and Sing” service organized by the city, the Portland branch of the NAACP, Portland’s Racial Justice Congress, Green Memorial AME Zion Church, and Williams Temple Church of God in Christ elicited various views about accused killer Dylann Roof, gun violence and inequality in America.

But they all identified racism as the core problem.

“This speaks to the depth of the concern and potential for lasting change in a society that has institutionalized racism,” the Rev. Kenneth I. Lewis of Green Memorial said after the vigil, where he twice took the podium.

Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Mayor Michael Brennan, City Councilor Ed Suslovic, and Penobscot Nation tribal elder Donna Loring. U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, contributed his thoughts in a video.

All agreed the learned behaviors of racism remain pervasive and must be eradicated, and Suslovic also noted the availability of guns.

“I’m sick and tired of listening to readings of names of people in our community who have been taken from us because of too much hatred and too many guns,” he said.

Loring spoke from a Native American perspective colored by her own experiences in the military.

“The gun did not commit the murders,” she said. “The cause and core of these murders can be traced to one thing only: Racism.”

While noting Roof allegedly prayed with congregants in Charleston before allegedly killing them, Lewis said his church welcomes all and will continue to do so.

“Don’t be distracted, we are talking about racism,” he said. “There are seeds sown and weeds that have grown that need to be pulled.”

Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the Portland NAACP, read “Still I Rise,” a poem by Maya Angelou, while Lewis drew on Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel “The Invisible Man” to express how racism is a learned behavior.

“There is another level of invisibility, to choose not to see, to choose that someone does not matter,” Lewis said.

Following the service, Rockland resident Willow Crawford-Crudell signed a card that will be sent to the Emanuel AME congregation. She said she was writing on behalf of the congregation of the Episcopal Church of St. John Baptist in Thomaston.

She said the setting of the violence made it all that much harder to understand.

“It is another thing to kill people for their race in their own church,” she said.

Green Memorial choir member Megan Jo Wilson of Cape Elizabeth sang as her 2-year-old daughter, Issa Hughes, played onstage with her friend Zadrian Cleveland during the singing of “We Need You Lord.”

“It was intense, pretty raw,” Wilson later said. “I am heartbroken, pissed and inspired.”

Lewis said he knew a woman in his congregation who worked in a sandwich shop, and had to face a patron who did not want her to prepare their food.

“So tell me,” he asked the assembly, “how far have we come from ‘The Invisible Man?'”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements


Issa Hughes, of Cape Elizabeth, and Zadrian Cleveland, of Westbrook, receive high-fives from the Rev. Kenneth Lewis during “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a multi-faith service Monday at Merrill Auditorium in Portland to memorialize the victims of the June 17 church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Rev. Kenneth Lewis of Green Memorial AME Zion Church in Portland, delivers remarks Monday, June 22, during “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a multi-faith service to memorialize the victims of the June 17 church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.

Singer Megan Jo Wilson, of Cape Elizabeth, stands out among a sea of hands during a performance by the Green Memorial AME Zion choir on June 22, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. The event, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,”  was a multi-faith service to memorialize the victims of the June 17 church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.

A large audience applauds remarks by Portland Mayor Michael Brennan on June 22 at Merrill Auditorium during “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a multi-faith service to memorialize the victims of the June 17 church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. An estimated 1,300 people attended.

A group of four rise to their feet and chant “black lives matter” on June 22 at Merrill Auditorium in Portland at the conclusion of the multi-faith service to memorialize the victims of the June 17 church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.

An estimated audience of 1,300 fills two-thirds of Merrill Auditorium on June 22 for “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a multi-faith service to memorialize the victims of the June 17 church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. 

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.