Some well-known Brookhaven activists joined hundreds of other members of the Buford Highway community at a March 28 rally in Doraville to protest discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

Audience members pray during the “National Rally for AAPI Lives” rally March 28 on Buford Highway in Doraville. (Joshua Crowder)

Organized by the Asian American Christian Collaborative, the local event was part of more than a dozen virtual and in-person rallies held nationwide in response to the March 16 mass murders at metro Atlanta spas where eight people died, including six Asian women, a White woman and a White man.

Lily Pabian, executive director of We Love BuHi, attends the rally. (Joshua Crowder)

The local “National Rally for AAPI Lives” event drew hundreds of people to the parking lot of a former Kmart store on Buford Highway at I-285, where they prayed and listened to speakers. The community nonprofit We Love BuHi partnered with AACC and helped it to find the rally site, and Executive Director Lily Pabian was among those in the audience.

Pabian later said in an email that it was important for the rally to happen on Buford Highwayh. “Having this moment of solidarity here, this place that has for over 40 years been the mainstay and mothership for immigrants, particularly of our AAPI communities who might not live here, but will always consider this home, means so much to our mission of preserving the multicultural identity of this Georgia and Southeast gem,” she said. “So when the faith leaders from AACC came to me about not being able to find a place willing to host a space for healing, I felt immediately that it had to be on Buford Highway.”

The speakers included Rev. David Park of Brookhaven’s Open Table Community Church, who is known as a local advocate for affordable housing. He spoke on themes of repentance and a call to action.

Rev. David Park of Brookhaven’s Open Table Community Church speaks at the rally. (Joshua Crowder)

Other speakers included Latasha Morrison, author of the bestselling book “Be the Bridge” and a related nationwide racial reconciliation organization.

AACC held similar events the same day in Austin and Houston, Texas; Boston; Chicago; Detroit; Los Angeles; metro Baltimore, Maryland; Minneapolis, Minnesota; New York City; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. The AACC website says the group organized a “Black Lives and Dignity” march in Chicago during last year’s racial justice protests and now decided to turn its attention nationwide on the issue of Asian American and Pacific Islander discrimination.

Hundreds gather for the rally. (Joshua Crowder)

“As we grieve the loss of the 8 image bearers in Atlanta and the greater systemic evils of anti-Asian hate and misogyny against women of Asian descent, the church cannot remain silent,” the group said on its website, using a term reflecting the Christian belief that all people are created in the image of God.

Rally attendees listen to the speakers. (Joshua Crowder)

“We will mourn with the communities who lost loved ones,” the website statement continues. “We want to show our nation and world that Asian American Christians will not remain silent in the face of injustice and that we will actively oppose the powers and principalities that could lead to such a heinous act of hate.”

Rally-goers stand in prayer, as one holds a sign reading “Bear one another’s burdens,” a reference to a Bible verse. (Joshua Crowder)

Organizers of the event sold T-shirts reading, “Stand for AAPI Lives and Dignity.” The AACC says the proceeds will go to victims’ families.

Rev. Sam Kang of Reconcile Church in Duluth speaks with emotion. (Joshua Crowder)

For a full video of the event, see the AACC Facebook page here.

Attendees bow their heads in a moment of prayer. (Joshua Crowder)

The sole suspect in the killings, which were committed at spas in Acworth and Atlanta, is a 21-year-old White man named Robert Aaron Long, who remains jailed. Officials from the Atlanta Police Department and the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) claim that Long immediately confessed to the killings and denied they were motivated by racism, but rather by a desire to kill people he blamed for his own “sexual addiction.” Authorities say they continue to investigate and have not ruled out any motives, and Long has not been charged with hate crimes.

Latasha Morrison, author of the bestselling book “Be the Bridge” and a related nationwide racial reconciliation organization, speaks to the crowd. (Joshua Crowder)

Many advocacy organizations and elected officials have said the killings should be considered  hate crimes due to the race of the majority of victims and of the suspect, and as a way of highlighting the rise in anti-Asian bias and attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was first reported in China. Activists have held several gatherings and protests in metro Atlanta, including a March 23 vigil in Dunwoody.

A moment of prayer is observed by rally attendees. (Joshua Crowder)

Photos and contributed reporting by Joshua Crowder

Update: This story has been updated to clarify that We Love BuHi was involved in organizing the rally and with comment from the organization.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.