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String players grace Black Lives Matter vigil in Jamaica Plain

Anna Seda played the cello with about 20 other musicians at Thursday's vigil on the lawn of First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain.
Anna Seda played the cello with about 20 other musicians at Thursday's vigil on the lawn of First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

“Amazing Grace” hung in the air over Centre Street in Jamaica Plain late Thursday afternoon as more than 20 musicians on violin, viola, mandolin, guitar, and cello paid tribute to Elijah McClain and other Black Americans killed by police.

McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist and violinist, died in August after police in Aurora, Colo., restrained him with a chokehold and paramedics injected him with the sedative ketamine. His death is one of many that have received renewed attention amid the movement against police violence on Black people.

The musicians gathered with more than 200 Jamaica Plain residents and visitors on the lawn of First Baptist Church for the neighborhood’s monthly Black Lives Matter rally, amid signs with messages such as “Confront white supremacy” and “No justice, no peace.”

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The musicians played the joyous “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song often called the Black National Anthem, as lanterns strung between two trees gently swayed, each decorated with letter spelling out “Black Lives Matter.”

As the music played softly , the crowd stood in silent appreciation. Many lined Centre Street holding protest signs for passing drivers to see, and for a few moments the supportive honking of horns drowned out the gentle sound of strings.

The Rev. Darrell R. Hamilton II, First Baptist’s pastor for formation and outreach, told the group that coming together and building community through sharing meals and talking about experiences is “how we move our world forward.”

“To become one with Black bodies, to become one with the oppressed, you also have to be willing to possibly share in some suffering with the oppressed,” Hamilton told the predominantly white crowd. “You are going to have to be willing to risk something.”

The fight against Black oppression isn’t only about rallies in the streets, Hamilton said, but also conversations in workplaces and neighborhoods, and corporate decisions made in boardrooms and hiring meetings.

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“It’s not enough that we continue to walk around and hold signs of, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and put signs of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ on our buildings, and on our windows, and outside of our houses — without at the same time recognizing in many ways we are responsible for the very gentrification of Black and brown neighborhoods for which we are hanging these signs,” he said.

Hamilton called on allies of the Black community “to not simply just be allies, but accomplices, to be one with, to get to know, in order that we might finally overcome this scourge of racism.”

Later the crowd solemnly recited the names of Black men and children killed by police and vigilantes.

“Trayvon Martin. Oscar Grant. Jordan Davis. Kendrec McDade. Cedrick Chatman,” they said, going on to list dozens of names, both those whose deaths sparked public outcries and those whose brief lives garnered limited attention.

Chiuba E. Obele, 29, of Brookline, said that as the crowd recited the list, he thought to himself, “It could have been me.”

“A lot of these people were shot unarmed and didn’t pose a threat. They were killed for just being Black,” said Obele, who last month filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Town of Brookline and its police department, alleging that officers racially profiled him.

Claudia Tavares, 36, came from her home in Brockton for the vigil, outraged over the deaths of Black Americans who had committed no crimes and by those who lost their lives over petty offenses.

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“If they had done something, I don’t know why they couldn’t just get arrested and be in prison as we speak,” she said. “They didn’t deserve to die.”

She pointed to criminal cases in which violent white offenders were arrested unharmed and received gentle treatment, including an arrest she’d watched on video in which officers offered a white suspect something to drink after taking him into custody.

“I was like, ‘Wow, if that was a Black person, it would have never been like that,’ " Tavares said.

Zoë Madonna of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.