PITTSBORO — Cries of anger and demands for change rang outside of the Alpha Center on Sunday evening when around 100 people gathered to mourn the loss of the 21 people who died in last week’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Chatham County leaders and residents spoke passionately, advocating for gun reform with a unified call for an end to gun violence.
“This is not a partisan political issue,” Chatham County Commissioner Karen Howard said during Sunday’s vigil. “This is really a question about how much we care about one another, and what we are willing to do in times like these, what we’re willing to sacrifice, what we’re willing to fight for.”
Pittsboro Mayor Cindy Perry and Tami Schwerin, the co-owner of The Plant on Lorax, organized the event, held in the parking lot outside of the Alpha Center at 697 Hillsboro St.
“The most amazing people came forward and just dedicated themselves over the last little while to planning this,” Perry told the News + Record after the vigil.
The gathering included the reading of the poem “Hymn for the Hurting” by American poet Amanda Gorman, recognizing mass shootings over the last decade, the singing of John Lennon’s classic “Imagine,” a candle lighting ceremony and remarks by other officials.
Howard said while she was happy to see Chatham County residents gather together, she wasn’t happy to come together for another mass shooting.
“There will be a gathering next year if we do nothing differently,” she said.
Howard urged those in attendance to act on their anger by demanding change to gun legislation, whether that be calling representatives in North Carolina or in Washington, D.C., or educating their neighbors on what the Second Amendment may or may not allow.
“I hope when you leave here today … you will reach out to people as unlike yourself as possible, and convince them that we can do better and that our kids deserve it — that this is not the legacy we want to hand over to them,” she said. “This is not the country we promised them.”
Dozens of pairs of children’s shoes were lined up in front of the makeshift stage, representing the youngest of gun violence victims. Howard asked attendees to think about the Uvalde shooting victims when looking at the colorful shoes.
“Think about what a 10 year-old’s body feels like,” she said, “Their arms wrapped around your neck ... a 10-year-old boy that brings you weeds and thinks they’re flowers and you love them anyway ... what a 10-year-old girl’s voice sounds like, what she’s singing in her room and thinks you can’t hear her. I want you to look at these shoes, and the shoes of those teachers who tried to put their bodies in front of them … there is a mother, not just last week’s mother, all the mothers that we have let go home with broken, battered children to bury.”
Perry concluded the vigil by announcing her intention to create Women Mayors against Gun Violence, which she said would start in North Carolina and then expand nationwide.
“We are here in Pittsboro ready to say no more,” Perry said. “We are ready to do something, anything, because we are beautiful, peaceful people seeking this Memorial Day weekend to be free of hatred, free of racism, free of all that has kept us apart.”
Howard echoed Perry’s sentiments after the vigil. She said she hopes Chatham residents and all Americans can come together to support a change she thinks is long overdue.
“At the rate we’re going, it’s only a matter of time before it’s within North Carolina, or it’s in one of our schools, shopping malls, or churches or synagogues,” Howard said. “As small as we are, there is something we can do, our voices count, and we can reach out to other people and let them hear the pain in us and hope that we can encourage people to say, ‘Not another child.’”
After the vigil, Perry shared how the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde impacted her, as well as what she plans to do with the Women Mayors against Gun Violence group she’s forming.
She said she hopes the anger and sadness Americans are feeling will help spur gun reform.
“This would be another one of those outreaches that would hopefully keep the momentum going,” Perry said. “I hope people look around at each other and say, ‘Yes, there are many people that don’t agree with us, but there’s a little nugget in everybody that could agree that we don’t need to be here.’”
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