A group of more than 200 people of all colors, ages, shapes and sizes gathered on the Sadler Lawn Thursday evening. All were dressed in black to stand in solidarity against discrimination.
The vigil, organized by students, came after the city of Baltimore, Maryland, broke into riots earlier this week following the funeral of Freddie Gray, an African American man who died from a spine injury he received while in police custody. The effects of the riots and their significance were immediately felt on TCU’s campus.
Emotions ran high as TCU United, a group of student leaders, spoke on the steps of Sadler with signs displaying messages in response to hate.
Senior Marquis Harris was the first to speak. He introduced the gathering as a way of saying racial discrimination may happen everywhere, but it will not happen on TCU’s campus.
“We’re not going to let what’s happening everywhere else happen on our campus,” Harris, a Spanish major, said.
Harris said the purpose of saying “Black lives matter” is not to say “Black lives” are more important than other lives, but to point out that people of color have been “like target practice.”
He said the protest was “monumental.”
“This isn’t just to say ‘I have a new SnapChat story,’ or ‘I have a new post on Facebook,’” Harris said during his welcome speech. “This needs to last.”
The crowd was made up of students, staff and community members, including Chancellor Victor Boschini and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Kathy Cavins-Tull.
“It’s amazing to have students come together for something they’re passionate about because this is how change happens,” Cavins-Tull said. “We need to talk about these important issues in a respectful manner. This is a way to do it.”
Cavins-Tull sent an email to the entire campus Thursday morning urging students to respect each other and encouraging students to “make a positive contribution to the conversation.” The message came in lieu of racially insensitive anonymous posts on Yik Yak, a mobile app, earlier this week.
During the protest, junior religion major and Baltimore native Mitchell Simmons led two prayers. Junior psychology major Tyler Provost spoke about encouraging equality on TCU’s campus.
At one point, everyone in the crowd was given a candle, which they lit using another protestor’s candle.
Provost asked the audience to think of someone they knew whose life was lost due to a senseless act of violence. He then told them to blow out their candle, symbolizing “letting the hate and anger go.”
Diona Willis, the sophomore political science major who developed the idea for the vigil/protest, said she was surprised by the turn out. She said the event raised more than $200 in donations for the Mary Harvin Transformation Center, a Baltimore community center that was burned down hours after the funeral of Freddie Gray.
As a call-to-action, sophomore marketing major Brittany Hudson spoke about a campus organization she is starting called “Equality.” She encouraged people interested in keeping the movement going to sign up.
In addition to Hudson’s idea, junior history major Adam Powell and junior sociology major Samantha Koehler said they plan to work toward bringing an African-American Studies minor to TCU.
Though he was not scheduled to speak, Mitchale Felder, a retired TCU police department officer, got onto the steps and encouraged everyone to turn to someone they didn’t know and tell them “I need you.” He then told everyone in the audience to hug someone they didn’t know.
“I couldn’t help myself,” Felder said after the protest. “I love people too much.”
Student Government Association President Cody Westphal was present, along with president-elect Maddie Reddick.
“This was incredible for me. I can’t say I know how it feels for some of the people here, but it’s really special for so many people to come together for something,” Westphal said. “To see this many people support real people and tell each other that they were made in God’s image… that was really special. I’ve been here four years and nothing like this has ever happened; it’s hard to get this many people out to attend anything.”
Westphal said the event marked “a new beginning.”
Reddick, who was elected as SGA president earlier this month, said SGA will support initiatives to provide inclusiveness on campus next semester and beyond.
“We [in SGA] could work on a resolution in support of bringing African-American Studies to TCU because it is needed,” Reddick said. “And we’d also like to support Brittany Hudson’s project however we can.”