Outside of the federal courthouse on Spring Street in downtown Gainesville, seven people joined hands and began to sing. The lyrics were to the gospel song, “We’ve Come a Long Way.”
“We’ve come a long way, Lord, we’ve come a long way, bearing our burdens in the heat of the day. Knowing that the lord will make a way ... We’ve come a long way, Lord, we’ve come a long way.”
The group came together on Saturday, April 7, after Gainesville City Schools board vice chairman Willie Mitchell wanted to commemorate last week’s 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. They also joined to stand in solidarity with the Parkland, Florida, community, which was recently devastated by a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school and the family of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man shot and killed by police March 18 in Sacramento, California.
“It’s actually not a protest,” Mitchell said. “It’s more of a gathering for peace and understanding.”
Mitchell said every time he hears stories of shootings like these, he is reminded of the Bible verse Exodus 20:13: “Thou shalt not kill.” So he called some friends and family and invited others from the community to join him in trying to make that Bible verse clear and remind people that it still holds true.
The Rev. Evelyn Johnson, a pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, joined Mitchell and spoke about King and the impact he had on the country with his peaceful protests.
“The question no longer is what Dr. King did, but what is the meaning of his coming and dying,” Johnson said. “He died that we might live. That was not his desire, but he died that we might live.”
As the years have passed, Johnson said she has seen the generations progress. She said because of King, her generation was given more opportunities than it would have had otherwise. Now, those opportunities are being passed on to young people.
When it comes to issues of gun violence, especially against African-Americans, Phyllis Brewer said Hall County is a pretty good place, but she thinks it could be better. She said there needs to be a conversation among everyone in the community, one that was happening at one point but ended for some reason.
“Everybody needs to come together to talk,” said Brewer, president of the Gainesville-Hall County chapter of the NAACP. “And we need to know our community. You need to learn about the different cultures and don’t assume until you learn about it. But you’ve got to talk. You’ve got to get together and have a conversation. Not just one or two times. It has to be an ongoing process in order to get some change.”