On the eve of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Newarkers of all faiths came together for a candlelight vigil offering prayers for peace and democracy.
Organized by the Newark interfaith community, the socially distanced event drew about 30 people to the lawn of Calvary Baptist Church on Delaware Avenue on Tuesday evening, while others tuned into an online live-stream.
The vigil was not for or against any particular politician or party, but rather in support of shared principals and institutions, said the Rev. Corey Fields, pastor of Calvary Baptist.
“We gather tonight in the midst of troublesome circumstances to bear witness to a better way,” Fields said. “As a community and as a nation, we are battered and broken.”
The event came as the United States reached 400,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic and 20,000 National Guard troops occupy Washington, D.C., to prevent against another attack like the insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month.
“This gathering has one simple idea: we cannot allow the violent and the hate-filled to be the only ones organizing and showing up,” Fields said. “So tonight, we show up – people of all different faiths, ethnicities and backgrounds, in person and online, to show once again that difference does not have to mean division. We show up to remind the community that the loudest voices are not necessarily the ones bringing the good and true.”
He added that the attack on the Capitol was just the latest incident in a long history of violence and intimidation used against people of color and other minorities.
“To those who have felt it and been hurt by it the most: you are seen. You are heard,” he said. “The people you see here and the many online and beyond have your back.”
Naveed Baqir, representing the Islamic faith, led a prayer for the incoming president, cabinet and other government leaders.
“We acknowledge that our country needs to heal from the divisiveness that has culminated in the terrorist attack on our symbol of democracy,” Baqir said. “We pray for our leaders so that they can stand firm for justice and peace, even if it means standing against themselves or their next of kin or their followers.”
State Rep. Paul Baumbach said he feels “beaten down” by what’s happened in the United States recently, particular on Jan. 6 at the Capitol.
“Events like this remind me of the home we have in Newark and the vibrancy of the variation in our community,” Baumbach said. “And that is not a weakness; that is a strength.”
He said the only way to fight hate is with love.
“I don’t mean blind love; I mean justice-inspired love. We do need accountability,” he said, continuing that America needs to reckon with the racial injustices of the past and present. “But we can, and we can because of our faith and our faith communities and our interfaith. We can make an example here in Newark. We have for so long, and I’m certain that we will continue.”
Mayor Jerry Clifton said he remembers a time when people were willing to sit down and talk about their disagreements.
“In today’s world, where you see the keyboard rangers and the hatred that can be spewed online, I ask each and every one of you to reject that way of life and that way of conducting business. It’s counterproductive and it just adds to the divisions in the world,” Clifton said. “Hopefully, we’ll see a coming together over the next days and weeks and months.”
Like Baumbach, he said Newark can set an example.
“I want to thank everybody in the faith-based community who has come together to teach everybody that Newark is about love. It is about getting along together. It is about inclusiveness,” Clifton said. “Thank you for rejecting the hatred that we’re seeing in the world today.”