On Mon., May 4, about fifty students, faculty and staff came together on the North Lawn for a moment of silence for Freddie Gray. They stood in a large circle, facing inward, with several people in attendance holding photographs of the current situation in Baltimore. Participants stood in silence, in an act of solidarity, until three readers—Sydney Pope ('18), the organizer of the vigil, fellow student Ayanna Harrison ('17), and Director of Diversity and Campus Engagement Natalie Gross—went through a timeline of the events surrounding Gray's death.
Freddie Gray died on April 19, one week after his violent arrest by the Baltimore Police Department, and, on May 1, a medical report sent to state prosecutors ruled that the death was a homicide. Protests in response to this have been ongoing in downtown Baltimore since the middle of last month, calling for consequences to those responsible for Gray's death and an end to police brutality.
Pope, who is from Baltimore, decided to plan the SLC initiative the Friday before the vigil took place. She got in touch with Natalie Gross and Common Ground space managers Imani West-Abdallah ('16) and Brendan O'Connell ('17), and held a brief planning session on the prior Sunday. "This really hit home," she said of the events that have been occurring in her home city. "I felt like I had to do something."
Gross agreed that she thinks of SLC-focused initiatives to fight racism and create a more inclusive community, which include RealTalk events and Race Matters discussions, in a larger context. "I think if I think about them so globally, it overwhelms me a little bit," she said. But she continued on the importance of thinking about the root of the issue, and thinking about "how many black and brown individuals, how many lives have been taken at the hands of people who are supposed to be in authority, who are supposed to protect and serve our respective communities."
"To me," she said, "it goes back to that lack of understanding, and seeing these black and brown bodies as othered, as not belonging, and therefore, not being worthy of respect." She continued, "If we can plant enough different kinds of seeds of awareness, of understanding...[we can] work to have a different perspective where it is not 'us' and 'them', or 'me' and 'them', but it is just us."
Pope commented that she is looking forward to returning to Baltimore after the semester ends. "I want to be a part of that healing process as much as possible."