On Monday afternoon, members of the College community gathered on the steps of Chapin Hall for a vigil organized by the Black Student Union (BSU) to honor victims of police brutality following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
“We wanted to construct a meditative healing space for students to voice their concerns,” BSU Chair Sevonna Brown ’15 told the Record.
The vigil opened with an invocation by College Chaplain Rick Spalding, and continued with a series of short speeches by professors from the Africana Studies department, and speeches and performances—both planned and spontaneous—by members of the crowd. Students and staff members stepped forward, and the vigil extended well beyond its expected length.
“A lot more people shared than we anticipated,” Brown said. “It lasted for nearly two hours and we planned for forty minutes to an hour. I was inspired and deeply moved by the crowd, the speakers and the overall energy.”
Brown reminded the crowd that the death of Michael Brown and its aftermath is “very immediate” to members of the College community.
Tirhakah Love ’15 emphasized the need for continued student involvement among students of all backgrounds. “There are threads of connection that need to be made,” Love said. “There’s something to be said for putting ourselves on the front lines. This is our time. There’s work to be done.”
The vigil fell on Gregory Tate’s first day teaching at the College as a Visiting Professor of Africana Studies. Tate emphasized the need to hold institutions accountable for actions that contribute to injustice.
“The war has been brought to this generation’s doorstep,” Tate said before the crowd. “You have a daunting task in the history of injustice … Ferguson is a microcosm for the kind of community 90 percent of black Americans live in.”
Students brought a diverse range of experiences to the vigil. Cathleen Donohue ’15 spoke about her experience studying abroad in South Africa, and Aseel Abdullab ’15 discussed her experience growing up in Troy, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. Maryanne Rodriguez ’15 spoke of her hope that students could remain strong and confident in the face of injustice.
“I hope that we continue to fight and be here for each other, because black lives do matter,” Rodriguez said.. “We are here, and we are beautiful.”
Meg Bossong ’05, Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, spoke in memory of Clinton Allen, brother of Chaedria LaBouvier ’07, who was killed by a police officer in Dallas, Tex. on March 10, 2013. Bossong witnessed Allen’s family’s struggle to defend his character in the aftermath of his death. “I have watched them fight for Clinton’s humanity,” Bossong said, expressing her pride in Allen’s family’s efforts despite the circumstances.
Ahmad Greene-Hayes ’16 recounted the trip he took to Ferguson, Mo. last month. He called on his fellow students to help “disrupt the narrative” surrounding Brown’s death, saying that “Fox News said last week that Mike Brown’s black body was a weapon.”
“[Michael Brown’s] blood is crying out from the ground against white supremacy. It’s calling out against racism,” Brown said. “I actually think we’re not angry enough … we need to stop this.”
Flyers for the event presented an open call for creative performances, including poetry and song. As the vigil drew to a close, Marguerite Ferrera-Anthony ’15 performed a cover of Lauryn Hill’s “I Get Out.”
In order to efficiently organize the vigil, BSU members communicated remotely at the end of summer. “We got on the phone, Skyped, did Google Hangouts and other social media in order to organize,” Brown said. “We were all in different parts of the country (and the world), but we did not let that stop us from putting together a plan of action to organize.”
As for the next step, the BSU has planned an open “call to action” meeting for Sunday, Sept. 14 at Rice House. According to Brown, the discussion will include responses to police brutality, possible campus events and activities and programming to help the community to respond to issues raised by events in Ferguson.