About 200 members of the Stony Brook University (SBU) community including athletes, students and administrators gathered for a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest and rally this past Wednesday. The demonstration was organized by the Stony Brook University NAACP chapter and the Black Student Athlete Huddle, who spent a little over a month planning the event.
Since the recent killings of Black lives like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, BLM protests have increased across the nation among all ages. The BLM movement first began back in 2012 with the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American who was shot by George Zimmerman. This past year, Taylor was shot in her sleep by police and none of them were charged for her death, but charged for other crimes. Floyd died in a choke hold by a police officer while pleading and saying “I can’t breathe.”
“Black Lives Matter, like everybody’s saying it’s a movement, not a moment,” said Oreoluwa Adewale, president of SBU’S NAACP chapter. “I think that right now, a lot of people are taking the opportunity to say things that we knew already. I would like to see a lot more action coming from the university.”
The Stony Brook NAACP started checking in students around 12:50 p.m. where they were given a bracelet and had a temperature check. All participants were required to wear a mask the entire time while participating. The NAACP chapter also sold masks for seven dollars each, where 80% of these funds were going to the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that advocates for ending excessive punishment and mass incarceration.
The chapter’s treasurer, Samantha Sanchez, helped organize the event and felt that a smaller community within SBU’s student body was being showcased.
“We really want to show the small minority community that we have at Stony Brook,” said Sanchez. “They are supported and have a community even if it is a small one. We also want them to find an outlet in case they feel a little bit more marginalized.”
Administrators like Rick Gatteau, vice president of student affairs and dean of students, were very proud of the student body being at the protest. He also did not worry too much about the risks of COVID-19 due to the campus completing consistent testing among students and the event being outdoors.
“I just think that the notion of community around a cause is something that’s so important to us,” said Gatteau. “It’s even more important because the election is coming up. I really want to encourage our students and community to pay attention to candidates on the issues of Black Lives Matter and creating opportunity and equity within our space is something really important.”
Once students were checked in, athletes, who made up a majority of the student body there, lined up with their teams. Non-athlete students lined up after along with administration and faculty. “No justice, no peace,” was chanted as the protestors marched from the steps in front of the Staller Center for the Arts around the Student Activity Center and past other class buildings like Frey Hall, back to the steps.
Students have been one of the largest demographics to advocate in the BLM movement. According to a survey with Yubo, 88% of Generation Z (Ages 13-25) were in support of the BLM movement in June. But this is nothing new for campuses, as protests for student opinions have been happening for decades.
“I believe that my rights as a Black woman in this country are being inhibited by the white supremacy that goes on in this country,” said Cassie Philogene, a senior at SBU and a Baldwin resident. “I protest to make my voice heard as a Black person at a predominantly white institution. Hopefully this is a wakeup call for them to kickstart things into motions.”
In the 1960’s, Kent State University students protested the Vietnam war, which led to the National Guard shooting at peaceful protestors killing four students and injuring nine. Also in the 60’s where the civil rights movement struck the nation, four African-American students of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University held a sit-in at a whites only lunch counter. These are just some of the many examples from the past that are being carried on today.
Football captain, Sam Kamara, came out because he felt it would be an injustice if he didn’t due to him being Black.
“It’s kind of sad to see, but it’s something that’s been going on for a while and I feel like now that it’s being brought to light I feel like it’s a good thing,” said Kamara. “I feel Stony Brook has been real open to change and to the idea that we all have Precedents.”
After the march, students and faculty sat on the steps or stood around to listen to keynote speakers. Faculty of SBU like Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, Judith Brown Clarke, Assistant Dean for Multicultural Affairs, Dr. Jarvis Watson and Assistant SBU Football Coach, Omar King spoke about the ongoing issues of a divided nation.
Clarke mostly spoke about how proud she was of the student body and how there are limited chances for students and faculty to march for social justice. She also noted how this is just the beginning of a larger conversation.
Watson agreed with Clarke’s statements and used a high level of pathos in his speech by interacting with the SBU community directly. He asked how many people have had “that talk” with their parents or know of someone who had to have it. He was referring to the rules for if they got stopped by police officers.
“Don’t use the basic abuse, don’t talk loud,” said Watson. “Yes, ma’am, yes, sir. It wasn’t out of respect or reverence. It was more out of fear; fear of being assaulted or arrested. But the biggest fear that we’re talking about right now is never coming home.”
Watson also encouraged Gatteau to go out and vote. After Watson was King, who claims that the protest was a historical event for SBU and he has never seen anything like it. He also promoted the idea of how young people are the future.
“Young people, it is your right to be treated fairly and equal,” said King. “You don’t have to beg, you don’t have to ask; it is your right. All we have to do is take the bull by the horns and just walk in that light. You are the light.”