Underneath the glow of the downtown Christmas lights, songs such as “Imagine,” “Where is the Love” and “He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother” played as part of Vermillion’s candlelight vigil Sunday night.
A crowd of about 100 community members gathered on the Platz to show their support and acceptance for all Vermillion residents.
Teri Bellis, one of the event’s organizers and chair of the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders at USD, said the vigil was a way to demonstrate that Vermillion is a safe, accepting place.
“We all know that there’s been a very divisive situation in the country of late and it really came to a head Nov. 8. And following that there were incidents on campus that we know of, and there were people who have lived here all their lives and were suddenly afraid,” she said. “We felt the need to say, ‘This is Vermillion, you don’t need to be afraid.’”
Though not many USD students attended the vigil, Bellis acknowledged the event’s short notice and the fact that most students are busy preparing for finals.
“I think I would’ve loved to have seen more students here, because for me, as a professor, it might be the students who need this the most — to know that they’re coming to a place where they’re accepted and loved,” she said. “But at the same time, just having people in the community accept this, and to come out and show like this, just that makes a statement.”
Musheera Anis, an assistant professor and adviser of the Muslim Students Association, also helped organize the event. She said it was “wonderful.”
“We wanted an official event where we announce the proclamation that the City Council signed and to really provide a space for everyone to come together and show the love and unity and acceptance that citizens of Vermillion and people of the Vermillion community show on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
Event speakers included Steve Miller, a United Church of Christ pastor; Lee Ann Roripaugh, the South Dakota Poet Laureate and a USD professor and Kelsey Collier-Wise, executive director of the United Way of Vermillion and a Vermillion City Council member.
After Collier-Wise read the city’s proclamation, “Recognizing Vermillion as a Community of Tolerance and Peace,” the candles were lit.
“Carry this light in your hearts forever,” Bellis told the crowd.
“I could feel the spirit,” Bellis said after the event. “I was watching people sing along with ‘Imagine’ … I think it went beautifully.”
Alex Carr, a Vermillion High School student, said she and a few others in a confirmation class thought it would be a good idea to come and show their support for Vermillion.
“I thought it was really moving,” she said. “It was just really powerful, everything that was said tonight, and the lights especially.”
Carolyn Prentice, another attendee, has been a resident of Vermillion for more than 11 years.
“I think this is a really important thing, just to stand forward and… show people support, that we care,” she said.
Anis encouraged everyone to display a green light somewhere on their homes as an ongoing symbol of support and acceptance.
“We would like everyone to continue participation by lighting a green light somewhere visible on their doors and kind of carry that message that we are a safe community and we are a safe space and Vermillion will continue to be that accepting community that it is,” she said.
Bellis said she wanted the night to be special, to mean something.
“And I think it did,” she said.