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Pastor Ken Brown sits on the stage at Civic Center Park during a moment of silence honoring George Floyd. Photo by Jay Bouchard

Activism and Faith Intersect at Vigil for George Floyd

Denver's demonstrations against police brutality struck a more reverential tone on the night of Floyd's funeral service.

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On the day George Floyd was finally laid to rest, thousands gathered at Denver’s Civic Center Park to pay their respects during a ceremony that stood in stark contrast to the demonstrations of the past two weeks: The overflowing crowd remained largely hushed. Incense burned and wafted through the air. People held hands, lit candles in unison, and meditated.

Organized by recent CU graduate Nyaradzo Bere and Denver School Board member Tay Anderson, the vigil—which took place only hours after Floyd’s funeral in his hometown of Houston—marked the 13th consecutive night of protests against police brutality in the Mile High City. And while the evening felt less like a protest than an opportunity for reflection, speakers still used the moment to issue a call to action.

Anderson was perhaps the most passionate, telling the crowd—and particularly its white members—that real change comes from real action: namely, supporting a comprehensive law enforcement reform bill that passed the state Senate on Tuesday and Anderson’s own initiative to end Denver Public Schools’ contract with the Denver Police Department. “Show me that Black lives matter,” Anderson said. “Show me you actually want to change something.”

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser also spoke and offered fervent support for the Black community. Warning against the perpetual threat of racial injustice to the “promise” of equality, the state’s top legal official said, “In Colorado, we are committed to fighting for that promise in 2020 more than even before.” Weiser was followed by students who shared sobering poems and a performance from Spirit of Grace, a local gospel trio.

The evening’s defining moment, though, came as the sun dropped behind the mountains and the Rev. Ken Brown of Denver’s Trinity United Methodist Church instructed everyone to light their candles or illuminate their phones. As lights flickered in the crowd, Brown recited Psalm 27: The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? Brown spoke about Floyd’s faith and then led the crowd in an eight minute and 46 second moment of silence. 

If the vigil felt like a church service, that wasn’t by accident, says Brown, who has been preaching on the front lines of the protests in Denver. “God is at the center of this movement,” Brown says. “At the core of this is a spiritual movement, in the same way as the civil rights movement was a spiritual movement.”

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