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Bowie holds vigil for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery

Sheila Griffiths speaks during a vigil at Allen Pond Park June 6 for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial violence about the importance of youth and the stress systemic racism places on them.
Sheila Griffiths speaks during a vigil at Allen Pond Park June 6 for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other victims of racial violence about the importance of youth and the stress systemic racism places on them. (Rachael Pacella / Capital Gazette)

Savannah Henson and Tayla Hall were leading prayer at Allen Pond Park Saturday, their way of responding to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

As they were praying with a group, hundreds of people flowed into the park from a separate event. They had walked from Bowie City Hall chanting “Black Lives Matter,” “hands up don’t shoot,” “I can’t breathe” and “I can’t run.”

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Megaphone-wielding Pastor Krishnan Natesan asked the marchers to enter the park quietly to respect those praying. And the two groups joined together in eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence to honor Floyd.

"For us to be silent is giving him back that respect," Henson said.

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They were happy to minister to strangers and hope to make the prayer gathering a monthly event.

Hours later Allen Pond Park was filled with people attending a vigil for Floyd and other victims of racial violence, organized by two Bowie families with the help of the city and other officials.

“Racism has no place here,” organizer Tameeka Washington said. “It has no place here today, it has no place here tomorrow.”

The youngest organizer was Shelemiah Griffiths-Johnson, 12. His mother Sheila Griffiths spoke about her experience raising a black son. Proactive parenting isn’t a choice for her, she said.

“Raising a black son requires me to strip him of his innocence at an early age so that he learns to be vigilant as he is burdened with understanding things way beyond his age,” she said.

Bowie Councilwoman Roxy Ndebumadu of District 4 said everyone was gathered there because of a failure in the justice system.

“It’s hard to stand up here and not shake. It’s hard to stand up here and not burst into tears, because it’s 2020, and we’re still here talking about the same thing,” she said.

She and others ran on changes that include providing opportunities for youth; youth who shouldn’t need to talk about racial injustice, but have to. She promised the crowd accountability.

“We’re in this together. We’re here together, and we will get through this together,” she said.

She praised Bowie Mayor Tim Adams who was at the vigil with his children and wife Circuit Court Judge Sheila Tillerson Adams, despite the recent death of his daughter. Adams said he was there Saturday in her honor.

“In this country, systemic racial injustices have served as the proverbial chokehold on the lives of African-Americans, and it has marginalized and minimized us as human beings,” Adams said. “But today that changes with your resounding voices. We can make sure no family ever has to experience the horrific tragedies of the Floyd, Arbery and Taylor families.”

Bowie Mayor Pro Tem Adrian Boafo said the City of Bowie was lucky to have leaders like Police Chief John Nesky, but that isn’t the reality for others and that they must keep an eye on people outside of Bowie and call out injustice. He said they have inherited challenges, but he has hope seeing demonstrations like those in Washington, D.C.

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“A few miles from here a younger generation, my generation, men and women of different colors are coming together to restore the character and justice in America,” Boafo said.

“And they’re doing it because they have gained the perspective from a previous generation. I am so proud of my generation. For the first time, we’re coming together in a very real way."

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