Shoals unity groups hold vigil for Charlottesville after deadly protest

FLORENCE, Ala. – On the heels of the horrific events which unfolded in Virginia over the weekend, unity groups in the Shoals came together and held a vigil Monday evening.

"Some while say it's time to make America great again. I offer you that America has always been great, because she is good," said Ben Newbern to a crowd holding candles.

Two groups are united in a cause. Newbern with “Equality Shoals” and Camille Bennett with “Project Say Something” say Monday night’s vigil came together rather quickly.

Both were shocked as they watched the chaos unfold in Charlottesville.

“Extremely heartbreaking; I’m still mourning what happened in Charlottesville. Particularly because it hit so close to home and it could have easily been us,” Bennett explained.

In June, Equality Shoals held a rally in Florence’s Wilson Park. Their message was simple, love is love.

During the rally, Klansmen showed up and heckled the crowd.

Bennett admitted she was scared, but knew she had to move forward with her message of unity. At the vigil, she addressed the experience.

"I heard stories from my elders, about marching and hoods, and it sounded far away from me," she began. "Something in the past , something I'd never have to live through, yet I found myself on a stage facing hoods."

Speakers implored the crowd to push for unity, even in the face of hate.

"Be brave, if you see something, say something" said Newbern. "Be public about our support for these communities, especially if you're not a member of one of them. Sometimes it takes an ally to change hearts and minds. We desperately need you, and we need you to be public about your support."

"I’ve been driving past monuments and flags for the majority of my life and I always knew how it made me feel but I also always made excuses, you know, I live in the south," Bennett said. "We are Charlottesville and Charlottesville is us. We still drive past symbols of oppression every single day and we are apathetic."

“I hope that we can change, we can do things differently,” Bennett said. “And my biggest hope is that my home city of Florence will be supportive and excited and see what an opportunity this is for us to change.”

Bennett would like to see hearts beginning to change, and put an end to hate groups. The other speakers pushed for similar action.

"Racism is sin, it just is," said Rev. Scott Coats of Northwood United Methodist Church. "To live a life of faith, supremacy and hate are antithetical to that. I want to invite you, encourage you, implore you to take inventory of your own heart, to search your own life for the hate that you’ve been taught."

Monday night’s solidarity vigil was held in downtown Florence’s Wilson Park.