Vigil for solidarity unites students
Shippensburg University students of diverse backgrounds united on Thursday night in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
SU’s African-American Organization, also known as “Afro-Am,” held a Vigil for Solidarity in SU’s hockey rink. Afro-Am President, senior Tyron Grant, organized the event.
“This event in particular is to break away some of the negative connotations about the movement, and the chance for us to feel some type of healing and realize our obligation to unify and be proactive in a solution,” senior Nicholas Johnson said.
The vigil was held to honor the minorities, mostly African-Americans, who have lost their lives at the hands of police brutality. Johnson gave the opening speech at the event.
“Tonight we are here to honor those who have fallen and to make a promise that this type of action will not continue, because by being here we are taking that first step in saying ‘It’s not acceptable and it’s not right and we are going to do something about it,’” Johnson said.
Johnson then welcomed Grant to the stage, who gave a brief historical overview of BLM.
“BLM is a call of action and a response to the anti-black racism that permeates our society,” Grant said.
Professor Brendan Finucane raised his fist high to show support of Black Lives Matter.
Afro-Am held a vigil for solidarity in the hockey rink on Thursday at 7 p.m.
He also spoke about various misconceptions about the movement. Grant discredited the idea that BLM does not care about black-on-black crime and that BLM is anti-police and only focuses on police brutality. He said the movement addresses other inter-community issues. Although many events are protests, the movement is not centered on the police. Grant said BLM addresses other issues such as safe and affordable housing, security issues and assistance for childcare support.
“Black people are disproportionately more poor, which makes us easier to target by police and other types of brutality — all these social indicators put us at a greater risk to fall victim or perpetrator of a violent crime, but to reduce that violent crime we must fight to change a system rather than demonize a whole race,” Grant said.
Grant addressed the idea that BLM could be viewed as an anti-white movement. He said the phrase “Black lives matter” is inclusive, meaning black lives matter, too.
“In the system that already exists, our lives are not valued as everybody else’s are,” Grant said.
Grant then welcomed Afro-Am’s secretary, Taylor Canty, to give a speech about solidarity.
“While many may say BLM is an anti-white movement, I say it is a movement of inclusion rather than exclusion,” Canty said. “That in this statement we demand — we propose that all lives matter and to acknowledge the targets on the backs of African-Americans, Latinos and all other minorities because we matter as well.”
Canty asked all who attended the vigil to continue a dialogue about social issues minorities face and to continue to bring them to light.
Members of Afro-Am spread around the hockey rink to share a list of names of people who they believe died unjustly, including: Trayvon Martin, Wendell Allen, Tamon Robinson, Shereese Francis, Sharmel Edwards, Shantel Davis, Robert Gomez, Raymond Allen, Timothy Russell, Duane Brown, Jonathan Ferrell, Andy Lopez, Jordan Baker, Yvette Smith, Eric Garner, Dante Parker, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Christian Taylor, Keith Scott, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons and many others.
Candles were lit in remembrance of these victims while Multicultural Student Affairs student senator, Marcus Watkins, sang Sam Cooke’s, “A Change is Gonna Come.”
Student Senate President Traci Moyer spoke at the vigil, encouraging students to unite against voices of hate.
“It is important that our students stand together and change the conversation because the power of speech is strong, but the power of positivity is so much stronger than that,” Moyer said.
Various members of SU’s faculty, administration and community spoke out at the event, including SU President George “Jody” Harpster and Vice President of Student Affairs Roger Serr.
Spanish professor José Ricardo Osorio shared a poem he wrote titled “Hear Me Out” expressing his concern and fear about police brutality.
Economics professor Brendan Finucane shared his experience with the black community. Finucane shared his worries about the treatment his mixed-race grandchildren will receive if they were to be stopped by the police.
“All of us collectively are raising the children of this nation and it makes no sense for us to be treating some of them one way and another group quite differently based solely on the color of their skin,” Finucane said.
Finucane, who is white, then shared his occasional experiences with the police.
“I don’t sit there with the fear that I have a target on my back, but am I living with the fear that my grandsons might have a target on their backs? Absolutely,” Finucane said. “That’s why we have to keep raising the consciousness, keep the pressure on the police throughout the country and hopefully we’ll start to make some progress. The madness has to stop at some point.”
David Lovett, associate vice president of student affairs, expressed his pride in the SU community and campus in light of recent events within the past week.
“All of you have said in one way or another, ‘We will not accept hate or bigotry on this campus,’” Lovett said.
Lovett encouraged students to look around them and see the diversity that was present at the event. Students of different gender, race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation all looked around and smiled at each other. He encouraged students to embrace and interact with one another.
Raymond Janifer, professor of English and ethnic studies, gave a speech expressing his interpretation of BLM and his growing concern for the lives of minorities in the United States.
“When I say that in 2015 unarmed African-Americans were killed by law enforcement at five times the rate that unarmed whites were killed and that adds up to 102 dead unarmed black folk killed in the streets, some of whom were not even convicted of a crime. If I say it bothers me because I have African-American grandsons, nephews and brothers who belong to an ethnic group that make up 13 percent of the population, but they end up being 37 percent of the unarmed victims that were killed by law enforcement, someone has the audacity to be upset with me,” Janifer said, “and these folks who are upset with me say I should not be mentioning that in those 102 cases where an unarmed African-American was killed by law enforcement personnel, only 10 of those officers were charged with a crime and only two of those actually received punishment for a crime.”
Janifer also addressed a recent racist social media post from a former student of the university whom he had in a class.
“It seems to me that every time someone mentions the mistreatment of people of color, it is a problem for someone,” Janifer said.
Students began to cry as his voice broke with emotion at the reality of the institutionalized injustice in the U.S.
“We have a lot to do and we will not stop our fight until every student is treated equally,” Student Senate Vice President Trent Bauer said.
SU alumni Martin Worthy spoke at the event. Worthy often hosts team-building workshops for Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) and other organizations at SU. Worthy commended everyone in attendance.
“Your presence here today is a demonstration of your commitment to being an active participant in your own rescue,” Worthy said.
The audience raised their hands in agreement to Worthy’s challenges promoting peace, dialogue and understanding. Worthy challenged the audience to agree to be uncomfortable, to have a conversation that frightens them with another person, to act and not ignore, to accept and not reject, to love and not hate and to encourage, not discourage.
The atmosphere shifted as Worthy engaged students in a chant, “I am the voice. I will lead, not follow. I will create, not destroy. I will love, not hate. I will encourage, not discourage. I will act, not ignore. I will accept, not reject. I’m a leader. Defy the odds. I’m a force for good. I’m a force for peace. Set a new standard. Step up.”
Voices boomed throughout the hockey rink as students repeated his words, growing louder each time.
Director of MSA Diane Jefferson expressed her thanks to all who attended the event, the speakers and the members of Afro-Am and MSA who contributed to the success of the vigil.
Jefferson closed the event with a song about freedom.
After the vigil, Grant spoke with students about continuing dialogue and shared his gratitude to all who came.
“I’m happy a lot of people came,” Grant said. “There is strength in numbers.”