This year has been long. It’s only September and we’ve had to deal with wildfires, a global pandemic, murder hornets, deadly explosions, locust swarms and the deaths of public figures like Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Boseman. Many of these things have been attributed to a 2020 “curse,” and they are all one-time tragedies that have seemed to compound themselves. However, there is one stream of events in our world this year that is not just a 2020 problem, as it has been going on in the United States since African slaves were first dropped off at the Jamestown Colony in 1619.
Ever since the peak of the civil rights movement, America has experienced waves of protests responding to instances of police discrimination against the black community. The Black Lives Matter movement was born in 2013 after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. This year, protests seemed to pick up more steam and support than those of the past. Danait Yonas (’22), president of Hope College’s Black Student Union (BSU) said, “This has been the country’s biggest wake up call. Black Lives Matter has been going on since 2013, but it’s taken us this long to finally start to pick up on things and realize this was a problem.”
This summer after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many Americans took to the streets in protest for justice to be served. Many of Hope’s students of color watched along with the rest of the country with a somewhat familiar sense of grief. Some of Hope’s students went out and protested. Adil Keri (’22), vice president of the BSU, described how Ahmaud Arbery’s killers were arrested in early May and not long after that was when “George Floyd die[d] with a knee on his neck. That night they did a protest in Minnesota, and the next day every city in the U.S. [had a protest] and I was out there with them.” Yonas commented, “it was so hard to see videos of black men and women being targeted by police, constantly having to see people who look like you being portrayed like this. That could have easily been me.”
This past weekend, students took the fight for racial justice to Hope’s campus. The protest at Hope was not organized by one student or student organization. “A group of concerned black students came together and said, ‘You know what, we’ve got to do something about this,’” said Keri, a protest attendee, who also spoke at the event, “We’re tired of talking. We’re tired of telling you how we feel. We’re going to show you.” For students of color, seeing the recent incidents with Jacob Blake and Daniel Prude, there are many reasons to protest. But the Black Lives Matter movement goes beyond law enforcement injustices. Yonas explained her desire to protest on Hope’s campus: “The reason I wanted to protest is because Black Lives Matter is not just about police brutality; it’s about systemic racism that we see in many of the systems we have in our lives today, one of those systems being our school. We’re not just protesting because of everything that’s been happening over the summer. We are protesting for change, for a better Hope, not only for us but for future students of color.” Many believe that change is starting to happen on Hope’s campus as more students speak up about their on-campus experiences.“Hope College is not free from racism. Racism is actually very prevalent here. It goes on more than you would believe,” Keri described [For information on discrimination at Hope, visit 95stories.wordpress.com]. Although Hope has started to reach out and recruit students of color, it seems for some that Hope has not matched those resources in keeping those students on campus. “Hope needs to do a better job of supporting and advocating for resources for students of color,” said Yonas. “It’s one thing to bring [students of color] here, but you have to support them.”
The protest on campus was a way for Hope’s students of color to voice their concerns. Over the summer, the BSU held a town hall meeting where many students shared how they wanted Hope to combat racism on campus. This led to a proposal, in which nine points are laid out with detailed plans and deadlines. “Within this proposal we gave them we said, this isn’t just a proposal of suggestions, these are demands. We’re telling you this is what we want changed and this is when we want them changed by,” said Keri. The proposal, named “A Better Hope,” asks for more faculty of color, demographic reports within majors, cottages for black students, more resources for the CDI, talks about anti-racism for freshmen during orientation, more Campus Safety investigative resources for incidents of hate and a change to the General Education requirements that provides for a class that teaches cultural awareness. All of the deadlines for these points fall within the next two years. Keri went on to say, “The thing I love about Black Lives Matter is that you can make it so personal. Yes, we as black people go through police brutality and misconduct, but Black Lives Matter goes so far beyond that. Through education, we have to make sure that our school values black lives.”
While the trials of this year have felt long, and though they are not over yet, for students of color this struggle won’t be over when the ball drops in Times Square at the beginning of 2021. “Once this year is over, my skin color will still be there,” said Yonas. “The fight is worth it. This movement is not a trend. It’s not something that you can take a couple of pictures at a protest, post them on Instagram and move on with your life. This is something that takes your heart. It’s a movement that you have to be committed to.”