UI students at solidarity event push for 'revolution'
November 18, 2015
Students congregated on the Main Quad Wednesday at noon for the black student solidarity rally, which was organized through social media, networking and word-of-mouth throughout the week.lb
The event did not introduce any formalized demands to University administration or other governing bodies. It was not organized by any specific group or registered student organization on campus.
Many students came dressed in all black. The Facebook page for the event — which served as one of its primary organizers — encouraged black attendees to bring “black signs and black flags along with their beautiful black skin and black voices.”lb
The events were organized in part with the Mizzou protests and subsequent changes in administration in mind but touched on many other issues facing black students on campus and in the nation. Daniel Johnson, freshman in Media, said the event was meant to show support and solidarity.lb
“I’m here in the support of the Mizzou acts, in support of a better future for the next generations and in support of changing the culture on this campus,” Johnson said.
Solo artists and hip-hop groups recited raps as well as spoken-word poetry to an audience who snapped, cheered and raised their fists in support. The crowd fell silent to University student Olivia Winston’s solo performance of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.”lb
Aside from talking about the Mizzou protests, speakers touched on issues like wage inequality for women of color, the state’s decision to suspend acceptance of Syrian refugees and the importance of supporting trans people of color and other underrepresented populations. Speakers also discussed the issue of microaggressions and discrimination against black students on campus.
Ron Lewis, a member of the Illinois Student Senate and sophomore in Businesslb, spoke on his personal experiences as a black student in a position of leadership on campus. He lamented that his race is brought up in discussions as a “token” and feels his achievements are often reduced to his race.
“There’s always situations where people said things to me as if I don’t have feelings, or people aren’t aware that I’m an actual person. At the career fair this year, a member of the same organization introduces me as his friend like this to his friend: ‘Hi this is Ron, and he’s our token black guy for our organization,’” Lewis said. “Mind you, he was dead serious, and this wasn’t a joke, and if my dream company wasn’t there, I guarantee you I probably would have done something different than just shaking his hand and smiling.”
George Tullock-Harris, an attendee of the rally and freshman in Business, says he feels outnumbered.lb
“I just found out that there’s less than 3,000 black students on campus, and there’s 44,000 students, so that’s kind of mind-blowing,” Tullock-Harris said.
The fall 2015 demographic breakdown of the University reports 44,087 students, 5 percent of whom are black.lb
Gus Wood, a speaker at the event and graduate student in History, said the event would not be the last of its kind.lb He said a “reform” of current systems of institutionalized racism would not be the correct choice of words for the push for equality for black Americans; he wants a complete overhaul. Wood said the term used should be “revolution.”
“This is the beginning of a few events,” Wood said. “Just know that this isn’t the end.”