WELLSBORO—On Saturday, June 13, more than 150 people gathered on the Wellsboro Green, candles in hand, for a vigil to remember the victims of racial violence throughout the U.S.
The event was organized by Yolie Canales, of Wellsboro, and her daughter, Elena Marzolf, formerly of Wellsboro. Participants mingled quietly before lighting candles and standing or kneeling silently for more than eight minutes, recalling the recent death of George Floyd and others.
Marzolf was visiting Wellsboro from her home in Philadelphia during the COVID-19 quarantine and remained after the Philly protests began.
“It broke my heart,” Marzolf said, “knowing that many of my friends were out in the streets of Philadelphia, peacefully showing support, while I was here, safe and comfortable, watching from afar. As the guilt worsened, I started thinking about Wellsboro. I’ve always remembered it as a kind and loving community. I know people here understand what it means to look out for one another, and I know they care about what’s right.
“People may wonder why peaceful demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter may be important in a predominantly white area such as our own,” she continued. “The answer is very simple — we have the most to learn about the history of race and systemic racism within our country.”
Larry and Barbara Biddison of Wellsboro concur. Barbara Biddison said, “Black Lives Matter is an important concept even here, even if we just don’t know the issues as well as other places.”
Across from the Green, several armed members of the Tioga County Liberty Association stood watching the vigil. One member, who declined to give his name, said that they intended “to protect the courthouse if things got out of hand.”
Organizer Canales said, “I was surprised at the paramilitary unit and then became angrier as the Green filled up with peaceful people. I was offended that they felt a need to protect it from us. Perhaps they anticipated outside agitators or ‘Antifa’. Aside from that, my heart is full seeing so many people in our community come out to mourn and feel empathy for Black Lives Matter.”
James Leister came from Elmira, N.Y. to attend the vigil, bringing his toddler daughter Emi. Leister graduated from Wellsboro High School a decade ago.
“It was kind of hard, as a black person, to grow up here, but things got better for me throughout high school. And this,” Leister says, gesturing at the Green, “is great to see.”
“This is not a political statement,” Marzolf said. “The point is simply to pay our respects to the countless innocent black lives lost at the hands of racism, and learn some new information that we can use to make a difference for the good of this whole country that we all love so dearly.”