By Grayson Ruhl
On Thursday, October 22, Sewanee organizations African American Alliance (AAA), the Hispanic Organization of Latino Awareness (HOLA), the Bairnwick Women’s Center, Asian Association of Empowerment, Awareness, and Networking Services (AASEANS), African Caribbean Student Association (ACASA), and the Gender and Sexual Diversity house united to bring attention to marginalized groups. These groups also aimed to demonstrate how essential and beneficial it is for groups of various ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations to unite in combatting such discrimination. Participants in the march met at Otey Parish to begin the “March Because You Matter.” The goal of this march was to express that no matter your background, you are important and have a voice. Also, we aimed to spread awareness for different lives in our community. This event had a massive turnout, and people from all backgrounds were represented.
The first speaker, Arthur Jones, commented on problems in our area and presented goals for achieving a more welcoming community. He recounted a recent transaction he had in Winchester: after asking for a haircut, a barber denied him service, claiming, “I don’t cut your kind.” Jones demonstrated that racism and other types of discrimination are still problems that many people in our community and around the world face.
Jones also explained the meaning behind the “Black Lives Matter” slogan, which has been met with criticism and mocking, which some have belittled, going so far as to claim, “my dog’s life matters.” Some are agitated by the slogan, as they believe it detracts from the importance of other ethnicities; many argue that it is more appropriate to claim only that “All Lives Matter.” While it is true that all lives are valuable, the Black Lives Matter movement aims to have blacks and all minorities treated equally as whites. To sum up this reasoning, one sign read, “All Lives Didn’t Matter Until Black People Started Loving Themselves.”
The purpose of this movement is to accept diversity rather than celebrating sameness. After a statement written by Chief Marie Eldridge and a prayer, students, teachers, and all other participants took to the streets to march in protest of hatred and in appreciation of uniting all groups.
After this march, the groups ended up in front of All Saints’ Chapel. Many organizations cycled through the front stage, where they expressed their concern over the discrimination they face. For example, AAA talked about how African Americans are often misunderstood and looked down upon, which often fuels violence. Likewise, Wick residents commented on the many injustices plaguing women, such as female genital mutilation and femicide. Each group shed light on alarming matters requiring our attention, from microaggressions to fatal hate crimes.
The next speech took place in All Saints’ Chapel, where seminarian Ricardo Shepard spoke about the need for a community full of people who intentionally recognize one another and bring other voices into the conversation, thus breaking boundaries between groups. Chaplain Tom Macfie briefly followed this speech, quoting Martin Luther King’s hopeful commentary on the nature of humanity: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Participants of the march then held a candlelight vigil outside All Saints’ Chapel. Students and others then united their voices in song about resilience in the face of discrimination. This was followed by a moment of silence for lives lost to violent acts fueled by discrimination and lives never achieved.
Zack Loehle (C’17) commented on the event, saying, “It was exciting to be a part of such an empowering event, but also a troubling reminder that racism and inequality are still present for many members of our community. Some of the experiences that people shared felt like they should be from another era, and the persistence of such blatant bigotry—especially in the face of our continual repetition of ‘EQB’—highlights the need for change in a society that is by no means post-racial or post-gendered.” This event brought the Sewanee community together and provided people with goals for dwelling in further unity.