Leaders plan unity parade

Published 9:23 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Community leaders hope an event this Tuesday will help build unity among Suffolk residents.

Labeled a “Unity Parade,” the event is one piece of a puzzle that will help build relationships, the people spearheading it said.

“I feel that Suffolk has a unique opportunity to bridge some of its own gaps,” said Bob Stephens, co-founder of the Community Action Coalition of Suffolk VA. “There are issues that go on in communities that could be better addressed if people understood each other.”

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“This is an effort to try to bring people together,” said the Rev. T. Floyd “Skip” Irby, co-founder of Suffolk Clergy United. “It’s to emphasize how there can be unity in the community.”

The two groups plan the Unity Parade to take place this Tuesday, beginning at Market Park, across from 326 N. Main St., at 4:45 p.m. and ending at the city’s Visitor Center, just before National Night Out festivities kick off there.

It’s not a protest, Stephens emphasized, and the organizers are discouraging chants and slogans. They are encouraging signs representing different churches as well as positive messages such as hope, love and unity.

“I didn’t want any misinterpretations about what it is or it isn’t,” Stephens said. “I want to be sure people understood our purpose and our intent.”

The Suffolk Police Department will close the portion of Main Street to traffic and escort the parade, according to a press release about the event.

Stephens encouraged everybody to participate — elected officials and citizens of all ages, races and faiths.

“We need to get everybody on the street,” he said. “It’s a gesture of goodwill where people embrace each other and say, ‘Let’s walk down the street together.’”

Stephens also said there is no political or social agenda.

“We’re not there to discuss causes, even though we’ll get to that point,” he said. “The overarching objective is to build relationships so we can get from here to there.”

Irby also said the goal of the unity parade is to build relationships.

“We’re trying to help build community and trust among various groups in the city and find ways to do that,” he said. “Doing that is kind of like putting together a puzzle. It’s part of what we hope will develop into a number of ways to have dialogue, action and build some relationships.”

Irby said the parade is not meant to sugarcoat the tragedies that have affected many marginalized groups.

“The fact this is a unity parade is not a denial of the pain and the reality that many people experience of things being not well,” Irby said. “Our hope is that this will be an event that will reflect the diversity we have and what we can look like when we’re together on a hot Tuesday afternoon in Suffolk.”

The parade will conclude with participants reciting this pledge:

“I am willing to always be at peace with my neighbor;

I am willing to forgive myself and all others;

I am willing to look at all things through eyes of love, empathy and compassion;

I am willing to be everything I can be, and work at being the best person possible;

I am willing to be open and receptive when engaging with others;

I am willing to serve my community in a manner that serves and benefits all concerned;

I am willing to release past grievances and breakdowns, looking to a vibrant, fair and equitable community;

I am willing to surrender my ego, judgments, biases, and predispositions when interacting with others;

I am willing to love unconditionally, regardless of creed, color, religious beliefs or gender;

I am willing to practice consciousness, awareness, tolerance and understanding; and,

I am willing to represent the love of God and the best of humanity in all my actions.”

Stephens said he hopes everyone will take the pledge to heart.

“We really would like for every citizen in Suffolk to take a look at themselves and say, ‘What can I do better?’” he said. “Read the pledge and make it a part of your life.”