Conquering hate: Several hundred participate in Salisbury’s ‘March for Love’

Published 12:01 am Sunday, December 4, 2016

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY — You’ve heard about hate groups, so maybe this was a love group.

Setting out to the old Bill Withers song “Lean on Me,” several hundred people walked the circumference of the city block bounded by South Jackson, West Fisher, South Church and West Innes streets Saturday on the first-ever “March for Love” in Salisbury.

Love was definitely in the air, on the lips, in the songs, on the signs and banners and reflected in the smiles and hugs shared within this diverse group of participants.

Some marchers had silver hair. Others sported pony tails. Some walkers relied on canes, while close by mothers pushed infants in strollers.

Churches and organizations were represented, but mostly the march brought together individuals, couples and families expressing love for one another and delivering the sentiment that we’re all in this together.

“We were going to be happy if there were 10 people who showed up,” one of the organizers, Nichole Towns, said as she took in the large crowd which first gathered at the Bell Tower Park gazebo.

Salisbury’s march was one of several demonstrations organized statewide in response to rumors of a “Victory Klavalkade Parade” also planned Saturday by the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Pelham, a community near the Va. border.

A few days after the Nov. 8 presidential election, the group said it was planning a Dec. 3 rally in celebration of Donald Trump’s victory. (The Trump campaign denounced the KKK.)

On Friday, a man identifying himself with the KKK told the Burlington Times-News that the Loyal White Knights planned a “car parade” in the vicinity of Pelham Saturday, but again no specific location was given. The Caswell County Sheriff’s Department told the newspaper the KKK had not received any parade permit.

A team of Salisbury residents, organized initially by Towns and Teresa Rowell, formed a committee to plan Saturday’s March for Love. Other peaceful festivals and/or demonstrations also were held Saturday in Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Mebane and Raleigh.

Rowell said she didn’t know whether the March for Love would turn into an annual event, but she was intrigued by the folks it brought together.

“We’ve had a lot of people I’ve never seen before,” she said.

Dr. Regina Dancy of Hood Theological Seminary said the March for Love is only the beginning. She called on people at the march to make a commitment to each other, stay united and march in love for “common causes that come up in the future.”

“Only love can conquer hate,” Dancy said.

Dancy also gave a plug for the group Women for Justice in Law Enforcement and Community Peace, which plans to attend Tuesday’s Salisbury City Council meeting with a petition calling for an immediate stop to the Police Department’s use of no-knock warrants.

Police used a no-knock warrant to enter a residence at 625 E. Lafayette St. Nov. 3, leading to the police killing of 22-year-old Ferguson Claude Laurent Jr.

Several people in the crowd Saturday were circulating the petition against the no-knock warrants.

Dancy said the word “love” is spoken a lot, but it is not always demonstrated as it was Saturday. She told participants to look at the diversity represented in the crowd and recognize that each person is unique.

But when diverse people come together, a wonderful tapestry of human spirit is created, Dancy said.

People in the march held signs that said things such as “No Hate in Our State” and “We Are Better Together.” Words such as “love,” “peace,” “truth” and “unity” were often repeated.

Catawba College students Destiny Stone and Mia Shuster sang their own songs — “Colorblind” and “Love, Love, Love,” respectively — before Stone led the crowd in clapping and singing “Lean on Me” as they started on the peaceful march.

Many passing cars on West Innes Street honked in support as the group passed by.

“This was something positive and important to do,” said Billie Cunningham, a librarian at Catawba College. Her children, 7 and 16, were participating in their first demonstration, which Billie acknowledged had renewed a spirit in her from her younger days.

Cunningham said she felt compelled to march Saturday partly because of the election and partly in response to what the KKK apparently had planned. She said it was important to send a positive message to counter whatever the hate group was doing.

Ellen Kesler of Salisbury said she was proud of Salisbury’s being one of the communities in the state whose residents felt compelled to respond in this way. She made it a point to march Saturday.

“It was No. 1 on my list,” Kesler said, holding a “Rowan Love” sign that someone had given to her.

Before they dispersed Saturday, Rowell encouraged the marchers to do one thing:

“Go and take this love out in the community.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.