More than 70 people gathered at the amphitheater in downtown Cuyahoga Falls Monday evening to mourn the recent spate of deadly mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado and to call for political solutions that could end America’s ongoing gun violence crisis.

“Remember, Respond, Reform: A Vigil Against Violence and Hate” drew comments from survivors, lawmakers and local activists and religious leaders, all of whom made comments on the intersection of gun violence, racism and hate crime. Speakers urged those in attendance to put pressure on officials to put in place better gun control laws and other safeguards to protect the communities most vulnerable to this violence and hate crimes.

“We cry with the children who have lost parents and grandparents, we romp with the brothers and sisters who have lost a sibling, and we sit in silence, holding the hands of confused parents who have lost a child, we sit in shocked silence with spouse, ”said Meredith Gregory, a Cuyahoga resident and longtime volunteer with Moms Demand Action, a non-partisan advocacy group that advocates stricter gun laws across the country.

“These tragedies reaffirm the fact that America is in a crisis of gun violence that includes both mass murders and daily shootings that plague communities across the country,” continued Gregory, urging attendees to put pressure on the senators to implement strict background legislation.

“I can’t think of a better way to honor the memories of those we lost than to say something when they can no longer do it,” she said.

Sponsored by Dimensions of Isms, Crooked River Action, God Before Guns and Moms Demand Action, the candlelight vigil follows a record year for gun violence in America. The Gun Violence Archives reports that at least 19,223 people died as a result of gun violence in 2020 – an increase of nearly 25% compared to 2019.

“We know that the majority of hate-motivated violence is directed against color communities,” said Gregory. More than 10,300 hate crimes are committed with firearms in America, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

Buffalo-born Cynthia Lehman of Cleveland shows her faith clearly on her protective mask during a candlelight vigil held in honor of the lives lost in the Atlanta shooting earlier this month. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Elaine Tso, executive director of Asia Services in Action, Akron, spoke about her own family’s experience of gun violence and the need for broader hate crime legislation in Ohio.

“I am so proud that the community has finally realized the seriousness of the problems affecting Asians in this country,” said Tso.

Tso encouraged parishioners to go to lawmakers to pass House Bill 224, which would establish Ohio’s first Asia-American and Pacific Islander Affairs Commission and Asia-Pacific Islander Affairs Bureau .

Once established, the commission will collect data, including on discrimination and violence, on Asian Americans and islanders in the Pacific to better understand the specific problems and needs of these communities.

The bill is jointly sponsored by Reps Stephanie D. Howse and Tavia Galonski, who introduced it in part to address the lack of Asian-American representation from Ohio in the House of Representatives. The bill is more urgent than ever, Galonski said in light of the increasing violence against Asian Americans over the past year.

Ohio Representative Tavia Galonski, D-Akron holds up a copy of House Bill 224, a bill that will help members of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities, while they stand during a vigil following the Atlanta shooting earlier this month, Monday, speaks.  March 29, 2021 in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

“We need a commission to ask the questions to which we have no answers,” Galonski told the participants in the vigil.

“Let’s start with this commission so we can start this conversation and end this hatred,” she said.

Other speakers included Sean Lowe, Assistant to Rep. Tim Ryan, who reiterated Ryan’s commitment to stricter gun laws.

“We need to keep up the pressure on the Senate to pass HR 8, Universal Background Checks. You need to keep putting pressure on the senators, and we need to get this bill on President Biden’s desk for him to sign, so that we don’t have to come to other events like this one to mourn and remember. “Said Lowe.

Cuyahoga Falls Democratic Club President AJ Harris stressed the importance of voting and electing officials with a proven commitment to challenge the gun lobby and end gun violence. Rev. Kris Eggert, executive director of God Before Guns, a multi-faith coalition of faiths and organizations working to end gun violence, spoke of Senate Bill 175, which calls for withdrawal from the Ohio State Your Ground Act, ” Racist “overturns the bill, if ever there, as it provides the more effective defense for whites to kill people with color,” and urged participants to “have the boldness to speak what we know our leaders don’t.” want to hear “.

Sunny Matthews – one of the co-organizers of the vigil along with Rev. Debbie Saxe, Pastor Ginger Bakos, and Kody Cross – described the persistence of gun violence as a symptom of failure to act.

“We need to remember those who lost their lives because we did not act. We need to remember that people are more than hashtags. … We have a right to life, and we don’t have that if we can’t go to the grocery store, if we can’t go to school, if we can’t go to the movies, ”said Matthews.

“We can’t just hope it will go away. We have to take action. … I urge you to remember, react and call for reform, ”she added.

Citizens light candles during a vigil held in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, in honor of the lives lost in the Atlanta shooting earlier this month, Monday, March 29, 2021. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

At the end of the speeches, vigil participants lit candles to commemorate the 8 victims of the Atlanta area spa shootings and the 10 victims of the Boulder supermarket shootings, while Rev. Debbie Saxe led a prayer.

Eggert, finding that annual gun violence rates in Ohio exceed the national average by 12%, urged community members to change the direction of society.

“As a society armed against itself, we are alarmingly close to that. On a certain day, that’s not a way to live. We have to do it better, we have to do it better, ”said Eggert.

Seyma Bayram is a corps member of Report for America, a national utility that places journalists in local newsrooms. Learn more at Contact her at or 330-996-3327 or on Twitter @ SeymaBayram0.