French criminology student Zoe Pelletier made local headlines last week when she organised a candlelit vigil in Birmingham City Centre to show solidarity and to pay tribute to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

An estimated 700 people gathered around Victoria Square last Thursday (Jan 8), lighting candles as a mark of respect. The 22-year-old Birmingham City University student who was born in Lyon, France, spoke to Views@BCU on organising the vigil and the support she received…

BCU: How did the idea of the vigil come about? 

Zoe: The idea of the vigil came about because I did not know such tragedy could have happened in France. The people who got killed went to work thinking they would have a normal day, although they were aware that not everyone was a fan of their work. After all, everyone has a right to express themselves and I do not believe the people who lost their lives were causing any harm to anyone. The terrorists actions were so cold blooded, it was awful. We live in 2015, freedom of speech exists so people should not be scared to say out loud what they think or should not be scared to live the life they want. We all have different opinions but we all have to accept each other’s as well. We all are human beings and we all are entitled to freedom of speech.

BCU: Did you expect to get the support that you did?

Zoe: I created the ‘#JeSuisCharlie Birmingham’ event on Facebook and invited all my friends to come. They were supportive enough to spread the word and invited all of their friends as well. Alongside the word of mouth, a variety of media had contacted me on the morning of the vigil and were kind and supportive enough to spread the word.

BCU: What was the process of organising the vigil, were there any obstacles?

Zoe: On the evening of the shooting, I saw that there were lots of vigils organised all over the world and the only one in England was in London. I thought that Birmingham should also hold a vigil as it is the second biggest city in England. So, I got in touch with Camille Thouvenin, a 24-year-old worker, who is originally from Carpentras near Avignon, France and currently lives in Netherseal, near Derby. We both were passionate about Birmingham holding a vigil so we decided to create the [Facebook] event. We both were very anxious as we didn’t think a numerous amount of people would show up but I was glad to see that 20 [people] accepted the invitation shortly after it was created. I went to bed hoping the vigil would be a success. When I awoke the next morning I was eager to check the event’s Facebook page and was surprised and shocked to see all the support that everyone was showing- this includes the media as they had emailed me about taking part in interviews so they could gain more details and information. It was heart-warming to say the least, to have received all that support.

BCU: How many people were you expecting?

Zoe: If I am being honest, I personally thought it would have been a great success if at least 100 people showed up but it was amazing to see a huge amount of people who showed up enthusiastically to stand up for as a community for the rights of humanity and the freedom of speech. It was so encouraging to see not only French citizens but the British community to show their support.

BCU: What have you taken away from the night?

Zoe: Nothing can be defeated alone but as a community we can anchor the world. We would only get what we give.

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Sunny Gill

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