Peace, Love and Understanding


Confessions of a Teenage Mind

Candlelight vigil against hate was a positive first step

By Kaitlyn Von Behren, Current Staff

As a child, my favorite game at sleepovers was always “Would You Rather.” I even had a go-to question: Would you rather go backward in time, or forward?

My companions would almost always say they’d rather go to the future. They already knew how the past went, after all, and they wanted to learn something new: who they’d marry, which country would first plant its flag on Mars, who the first female president of the United States would be.

I was, and still am, anxious when I think of the future. Because of this, I’d always counter my sleepover pals and explain to them why traveling to the past was a much better choice.

Now we have, and I know I was terribly wrong.

Emmett Till, killed by a white supremacist in 1955.

Nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killed by a white supremacist in 2015.

Anne Frank, killed by Nazis in 1945.

Heather Heyer, killed by a Nazi sympathizer in 2017.

This comparison is not meant to blend together these people or their experiences, as they were all individuals who suffered through different things and brought something different to the world. My intention is not to erase that, but to highlight what binds them together, even in death.

In the wake of Heyer’s murder and the Charlottesville rally featuring neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the KKK that led to the terror attack, the Democratic Party of Washington County organized a Candlelight Vigil Promoting an End to Hate Aug. 19 at Old Settlers Park in West Bend, so I went.

I was nervous walking in, but I soon realized there was no need to be. The vigil was focused on loving one another, regardless of race, political party, religion, sex, gender, you name it.

A woman carried a large American flag with a peace sign in the patch of blue. I sat down on a bench next to someone I didn’t know, but who was kind nonetheless. I was quickly offered a candle, a sheet of yellow paper with songs and quotes on it, and a button, all of which I accepted.

While this event was started by the Democratic Party of Washington County, not everyone there was a Democrat. (Probably, at least. I didn’t go around asking people for their political affiliation.) Membership wasn’t a prerequisite to come. This event was nonpartisan, since violence isn’t a Democrat thing or a Republican thing, and non-violence isn’t either.

Violence isn’t a Democrat thing or a Republican thing, and non-violence isn’t either.

While we’re on this topic, I’d like to say that racism, violence, and hatred aren’t Democratic or Republican things, but they are Nazi, KKK, and white supremacist things. I find it both saddening and anger-inducing that I even feel the need to type that out, that someone feels there are “many sides” that display “hatred, bigotry, and violence” when one side holds neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists while the other side holds people against racism. (I am not bashing President Trump. However, his reaction to Charlottesville needs to be addressed.)

Tanya Lohr, head of the Democratic Party of Washington County and social studies teacher at West Bend West High School, introduced three speakers: businessman and politician Khary Penebaker, UW-WC philosophy professor Mark Peterson and a local minister who discussed the need for love over hate, especially in a climate like today’s. Penebaker even got the crowd to repeat, “Love wins, love wins, love wins.”

Soon afterward, we lit our candles and sang a few verses of “This Little Light of Mine” and “What a Wonderful World,” then listened to children read quotations from peaceful people like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank and Martin Luther King, Jr.

We had a moment of silence, closed the vigil and mingled amongst ourselves.

This vigil was not meant to incite Facebook fights, but to bring people together for a common goal: the end of violence.

As much as I wish a vigil could end violence and racism, it is simply not possible. (It was a wonderful first step, however.) So, what’s next?

Many white people, like me, need to get better educated on these issues. When African-American people and other people of color are killed, we cannot ignore it. We need to donate time or money and make space for others. (Making space means being mindful of how much silence one is leaving for other people to talk. For example, it is very important for me, as a white person, to not try to dominate a conversation about racism as I have not experienced it, whereas people of color have and their testimony is more important than mine.) We need to challenge racist relatives and protest and come to terms with prejudices, especially our own.

People of color, I do not understand what you’re going through, and I am sorry for that. I am sorry for the prejudice and racism you are forced to endure daily, and I am sorry that I do not always speak up when I should. I am sorry for my implicit biases, and I am sorry it has taken me so long to realize the privileges I have because I am white.

I am sorry I sometimes forget that love wins, love wins, love wins.

(Confessions of a Teenage Mind is a regular column written by Kaitlyn Von Behren, Current Staff. Photo courtesy of Eric Carlson.)


Filed under Community, Viewpoint

4 responses to “Peace, Love and Understanding

  1. Berth Kastner

    Kaitlyn, I appreciated your article and I hope it encourages more young people to participate in all of our responsibilities as citizens of the world. Well done!

  2. Anon

    I find your overgeneralization of whites racist and beyond insulting. No one is alien to the clear problems within the black community, and it is not the fault of all whites who got them there, not to mention, it isn’t whites who are keeping them there.

    My guess is that your retort will be “white people are always racist.” Really. I am not a racist. I have many black friends. You are clearly trying to sound moderate by saying that violence isn’t a right or left wing phenomenon, which is only partly true, but I’ll let it slide. Focus more on the fact that you claim that Trump’s response (which to be fair was not perfect or even remotely good in my eyes, however, I will give credit where it is due) to the violence was poor in terms of him saying that there was “violence on all sides.” That statement is verifiably true, as the radical left-wing group ironically named “Antifa” (anti- fascist) is the group which instigates much more violence and hatred and ironically uses the tactics of classic fascists to get their point across. It is true, the alt-right (for lack of a better term) is a horrible, vile organization who is roundly condemned by all good hearted people, right and left alike. However, there is practically radio silence (and sometimes praise) for the atrocious acts of Antifa.

    To make my statement more on point, white people are not the problem. Blacks are not the problem. Social problems (single motherhood, etc) are the driving factor for black failure, and you have to be a fool to say that white people are somehow the underlying cause of CURRENT black underachievement.

    I ask you to take this seriously and consider the possibility that personal responsibility should be the idea with which we all find common cause. Call out individual racists, elevate individuals of hard work and good morality, and don’t blame groups for past wrongdoings.

    Thank you

    • Anon-e-moose

      What i think our fiery friend here is trying to say is that you sound bias in this article. You make brief mention of the neo nazis and the KKK,but leave out Antifa. While the conversation of the two groups is something that is not the focus point of the piece, you still should have given equally brief condemnation of both violent parties. It strengthens your arugement for a peaceful unity and being bi partisanly educated in political matters. I admit this is a tangent, but i hope this is helpful

  3. _______

    The United States is the freest country in the history of humanity, and to say that after 50 years, the notion of vicious, frequent, and encouraged violence against black folks is rampant and institutional (i.e. that the government has laws on the books that discriminate against black people) is idiotic. There is no better place in the world to be black than in the United States of America in 2017. Blacks are responsible for their own choices, and it takes conviction to escape the horrors of the inner city, criminality, and poverty, but it is not only achievable, it is necessary for the betterment of the black community as a whole. We as a society need to encourage success, not blame those whose sole purpose is to rid the city of crime (police).

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