The sound of crashing waves mixed with prayer and music on Monday morning as upwards of 200 people gathered at Inkwell Beach in the wake of police shootings and continued racial violence around the country.

Judge Ed Redd spoke to the crowd from atop the seawall. — Jeanna Shepard

Members of the Polar Bears of Martha’s Vineyard, which swim at the beach every Monday, emerged from the water around 8 a.m., initiating the vigil with a traditional morning prayer. People gathered on the sidewalk above the beach, as members of the community took turns speaking from atop the seawall or from among the crowd.

Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake, who is president of the Vineyard chapter of the NAACP, recalled watching the news last week, when two black men were killed by police officers in widely reported incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota, followed by the killing of five police officers at a demonstration in Dallas. Borrowing the words of Rev. Cathlin Baker, who texted him last week, he said he felt “stunned into silence.” But he saw the vigil as a way to work through the pain.

Jacqueline Hunt, who chairs the local NAACP’s religious affairs committee, stirred the crowd with a brief sermon that cast the struggle for equal justice as a battle for peace.

“I belong to the SWAT team of almighty God,” Ms. Hunt said to applause and agreement from the crowd. “The blood of Jesus has been shed as a covenant that cannot be broken. And so we will put on the whole armor of God this morning. You put on your helmet of salvation that protects your mind, your will, your emotion.”

Vigil was filled with prayer, song and testimony. — Jeanna Shepard

She also urged people to remember the power of forgiveness. “God did not give us the spirit of fear,” she said. “God gave us the spirit of power, love and a sound mind.”

Jim Thomas, founder of the U.S. Slave Song Project, led the group in singing There Is a Balm in Gilead, a traditional spiritual that includes the verse,

There is a balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole;

There’s power enough in heaven,
To cure a sin-sick soul.

A large number of people in attendance knew the words by heart, while others hummed along. People later joined hands and linked arms while singing We Shall Overcome.

Erik Blake - Oak Bluffs police chief and president of the MV chapter of the NAACP. — Jeanna Shepard

Gretchen Tucker Underwood said that despite the peaceful circumstances of the day, she was not at peace.

“I am black and blue,” she said. “I was black because I was born that way, and I am blue because of the blood that has been spilled by blue and black over the last couple of weeks.” She agreed with the importance of prayer, but also urged action. “Take your prayerful thoughts to the ballot box,” she said to applause.

The theme of action in the face of adversity ran throughout the vigil.

“We walk hand in hand today,” said Marina Lent, in a slight spin on the words to We Shall Overcome, which she recalled singing many times at demonstrations in the past. “Not someday. Today. We have to.”

The vigil closed with a meditative trombone solo by Dick Griffin, an artist from New York City, who prayed from atop the seawall. After a few moments, the music dropped into a long, low rumble from his trombone that lasted nearly two minutes. Mr. Griffin called the technique circular phonics, a version of circular breathing that involves playing and singing at the same time.

Vigil began in the water with a prayer by the Polar Bears who swim together every Monday morning. — Jeanna Shepard

People lingered on the sidewalk after the event, enjoying a large breakfast provided by the NAACP. Among them was Charlayne Hunter-Gault, host of the current PBS series Race Matters, who commented on the power of communication.

“It’s great that we have these kinds of integrated, multi-racial, multi-generational events,” she said. “But they end here, generally.” She encouraged people to expand their everyday circles to become more diverse, and to not shy away from uncomfortable situations.

“I’d like to see this continue, not so much at the Inkwell, but in homes,” she said of the gathering on Monday. “We’re all in this together, and the more people appreciate and understand that, I think the more progress we can make.”