The Black Student Association at UTM held its first peace rally as part of the 17th annual Civil Rights Conference at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
The peace rally originally began as an opportunity for supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement to gather in accordance with the theme of this year’s Civil Rights Conference, “Social Justice in the Age of Black Lives Matter.” Organizers then decided to open the program to any person wanting to gather in a safe space and vocalize their feelings in an organized forum.
Senior BSA member Jonathon Nelson delivered an original poem titled “Black Excellence.” This was followed by Kwame Rose, the keynote speaker for the Civil Rights Conference and a social activist, writer, artist, musician and public speaker, addressing the audience. His full presentation will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23 in Watkins Auditorium at the University Center.
As reporters entered the rally, Ash-Lee Henderson could be heard through a microphone, encouraging students to chant along with her.
“What’re we gonna do to make the campus rise?” Henderson asked the crowd.
“Educate, agitate, organize,” the students said in response.
Black and white students alike gathered on the southern patio of the UC. Several carried signs with messages, a few of which read, “We can’t breathe,” “Be the change,” “NO Justice, NO Peace” and “Justice for all”.
UTM history professor Dr. David Barber spoke to the assembled students. Barber said that part of the blame belonged to him as well as others in his position.
“There is a failure here,” said Barber. “This campus is 85% white, and you can count the white people here on one hand.”
Barber also claimed that although the local population of Weakley County comes in below the average income line, they vote for a government that seeks to cut their support. According to Barber, people vote in such a way out of fear, because the government incites anger and uses scare tactics.
“The fact that black lives don’t matter now and didn’t matter historically in this nation compromises the dignity of all lives,” said Barber.
Princess Buchanan, senior communications major, delivered a call to action to her fellow classmates, saying that instead of sitting back and “posting,” they should be getting involved and becoming advocates for what they believe in.
“Use your voice to help speak for those who can’t,” she said to the assembled students.
Tyra Hawkins, a senior psychology major and the 2nd Vice President for Events of the BSA, coordinated the rally. Hawkins said that her hope is to see more people of all cultures coming to events like the rally in the future.
Biology major Emilio Walls shared Hawkins’ desire.
Walls said that he holds the rally close to heart because he has personally lost a loved one to a violent situation that he feels could have been prevented. He said that people coming together for the rally proves that “someone else cares…not just myself.”
“We’re willing to work together for the change that we want,” said Walls.
BSA has several more events planned for the Civil Rights Conference. Later this semester the organization will host the Mahogany Ball, where they will present Black Excellence Awards and recognize all black organizations on campus, including BSA, Alpha Kappa Psi, Alpha Phi Omega, all members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council and more. Tickets for this event are $30 for singles and $50 for couples. For more information about BSA or the Mahogany Ball, contact Tyra Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.