OKLAHOMA CITY —Hundreds of people filled a church in Wednesday to hold a candlelight vigil, honoring the six Asian-American women who were killed by a man fueled by racism in Atlanta last week.

On March 16, a gunman took the lives of eight people, six of whom were Asian-American women, at massage parlors and spas across the Atlanta area. In solidarity with the victims, their families and Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) across the nation, hundreds gathered in an Oklahoma City Methodist church for a candlelight vigil.

The vigil was put on by the Council of American and Islamic Relations of Oklahoma, the Asian District Cultural Association and the YWCA of OKC.

“It’s never easy to realize that people like you were under attack,” said Veronica Laizure, civil rights director for CAIR Oklahoma. “That’s unfortunately a fear and discomfort that members of people of color have felt for a long time in this country. “

Laizure, who was one of the organizers of the vigil, was overcome with emotion when she saw just how many people were filling the chapel to stand in solidarity with the AAPI community.

“Right now we’re just we’re so grateful for this community,” she said. “Oklahoma City really is a wonderful and amazing place to live. There are challenges for people of color and marginalized communities across the U.S. But moments like this, where we come together and say, ‘we honor you, we respect you and we value you,’ that is worth so much more than we could find any other community.”

According to research conducted by the group Stop AAPI Hate, over the past year there have been almost 3,800 reported cases of anti-Asian hate incidents, a nearly 150% increase from the previous year.

“So, this event is not only about this event, (and) is not only about honoring and mourning the eight lives that were lost in the Atlanta shooting,” said Cyndi Nguyen of the YWCA of OKC. “It is also about celebrating the lives of the eight people who are taken from us way, way too soon.”

The vigil brought people of all walks of lives together, including many state senators and representatives who spoke to the crowd and called on them to stand up against racism and anti-AAPI hate when they see it, and to not just be a silent bystander.

“True allyship is acknowledging the struggle, doing the shadow work to make sure that you are personally understanding it and not putting that emotional labor on a community that is directly suffering,” state Rep. Mauree Turner, D-OKC, said. “Because colorblindness is a gateway to white supremacy and upholding that.”

As the first Asian American to be elected to any office in the Oklahoma state legislature, state Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-OKC, spoke on her own encounters with racism growing up in Oklahoma.

“I can remember very early on at age five, coming home from kindergarten and telling my parents that I did not want to be Asian,” Munson said. “…I’ve done a lot of work in the last 30 years to love myself, to honor myself, to show up as my full self, and it is difficult work. Unfortunately, in a state that I love, it’s hard to show up as your full self.”

Munson recalled a night when she received a call from her mom that she will never forget.

“I have a very complicated relationship with my mom,” Munson said. “We don’t talk very often, but I’ll tell you that when the pandemic started and Donald Trump started calling the Coronavirus ‘the China virus,’ my mom called me to tell me she was scared. I have known my mom for a very long time and she has never ever been that vulnerable with me.”

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt spoke in support of the AAPI community in Oklahoma City, and urged the rest of the residents of Oklahoma City to stand in solidarity with them and fight the fight with them.

“We will surround you with love, and we will stand behind you or next to you, wherever you want us to stand,” Holt said. “Because the Asian American and Pacific Islander community of Oklahoma City is thriving, and it is an integral part of the future and the success of this collective experiment we call Oklahoma City.”

The emotional night ended with a candlelight vigil and a moment of silence for all the AAPI lives that have been lost, harassed and abused due to racism.

The final speaker of the night was an 11-year-old boy named Noah Lai, who shared a message of hope for all in attendance.

“The events that have been unfolding across the nation, specifically in Atlanta, were tragic — people’s lives were taken, tragically, and these eight people’s lives were taken so unfairly,” he said. “I am scared, but hopeful that these types of tragedies don’t happen to anyone, anywhere.”

He ended his message with a quote from poet Maya Angelou.

“There’s diversity in beauty. and there’s strength in unity,” Lai said.