At the heart of Saturday's Mass Moral March were two men, related only by tragedy and the hope to learn from it.
"I truly believe this was a great tragedy, but I think a change in attitudes has already started to happen," said Farris Barakat, whose younger brother, Deah, was shot to death Feb. 10. "We're not here out of revenge. We're not here because we're sad for them. We're here because the national eye is on us, and we want to show how Deah, Yusor and Razan lived."
Barakat was near the front of the crowd as he plodded through the streets of downtown Raleigh. He struggled to remember if he had ever participated in the Historic Thousands on Jones Street march, but he knew that it was exactly the kind of event that Deah, would've enjoyed.
On Feb. 10, Deah and his wife, Yusor, 21, were shot and killed in their Chapel Hill apartment. Yusor's sister, Razan, 19, who was visiting at the time, also died in what police are calling a parking dispute with a neighbor, Craig Hicks.
Two blocks back, Pierre Lacy marched with his fiancé, his daughter and 11-year-old son. Missing was Lacy's brother, Lennon, just 17 when he was found dead hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro last August.
The annual march, which celebrates unity and advocates for progressive ideals, served as an apt backdrop for the men.
Learning from the murder of his family members "is more important than the case itself," Barakat said.
He has always tried to be socially aware, he said, but in the wake of his brother's death, he has begun to work more actively to foster positive relationships between people of all faiths and races.
Barakat said that he plans to attend any event that gives him an opportunity to make a difference in ending Islamophobia."I'm going to find whatever I can to continue to spread the word," Barakat said. "I have a responsibility to do this. It's not something I want to do; it's something I have to do. I just hope God's plan for me is as beautiful as his plan for my brother, Deah."
Lacy, a resident of Virginia, has spent a lot of time in North Carolina during the past six months. Immediately after his brother's death, he temporarily moved back to Bladenboro, the city where his brother lived and died, about 90 miles southeast of Raleigh.
Lacy moved home to ensure that his brother's death, which police initially ruled a suicide, was fully investigated. At the time of his death, Lennon, a 17-year-old black man, was dating an older white woman, which led his family and several community members to suspect foul play.
Since then, the FBI started investigating the case, and Lacy moved back to Virginia, but he said he felt he had to return to North Carolina once again for Saturday's march.
"No matter what race or religion you are, we should all be fighting for the same thing," Lacy said. "I don't know what role I play in everything yet, but I'm going to keep fighting, whatever I have to do or wherever I have to go."
Pausing for a moment, Lacy recalled the day he heard that his brother had died. His brother's death changed his life, and made him scared for the lives of his four children. He said that fear was recently stirred by the news of the Chapel Hill murders.
"We need to show the world that we can unite," Lacy said. "We need to show everyone that blacks and whites and Muslims and Christians can live together in peace."
This article appeared in print with the headline "A search for peace."