On the sunny Saturday afternoon of August 29, students from all over campus congregated in the Pine Grove for one of the few marches in Hope College’s history. A group of motivated and empowered students held a Black Lives Matter march that traveled from the center of campus to Downtown Holland and back again. I spoke with two people who attended the march: a student who was a part of the event and a Campus Safety officer who happened to join. They shared their perspectives on being involved and what this event means for Hope’s campus and the surrounding community.
The first student I spoke with was Kworweinski Lefontant, a senior studying exercise science and a member of the Black Student Union (BSU). Why did he choose to attend this event? “As a student of color feeling the emotions of my peers in such a time of social change, when there is an opportunity to be a part of a movement of our own, it was really a no-brainer.” It was less a question of “Why?” and more of “Why not?” for him.
When imagining this type of event, one would think that it was organized by the Black Student Union, the Student Activities Committee or a number of other organized clubs. When asked who organized the event, Kworweinski smiled behind his mask and answered simply, “Black people.” There were no posters, no emails, no waiting or weeks of planning. This group of students knew that they wanted their voices heard and knew exactly how to do it.
He had certain expectations for what the event would look like. Speeches, spoken word, music and chanting were all on the schedule for that day, and everyone who attended received all that was promised. This march was well-organized, and the intentions were clear: to have the cries for justice heard and to show the community that Hope will not be silent.
Kworweinski admitted that he did not expect for the march to go off campus. Nonetheless, it moved all the way to 8th Street, past the invisible division between Hope’s campus and the surrounding community. He was also surprised at the lack of negative feedback, at least from his own perspective and from the other people he talked with following the event. The only critical response from the community was an onlooker who said that this type of event is “unexpected to be coming from Hope’s campus.” He was surprised to have President Scogin in attendance as well.
The positive reactions from the Holland community came as a surprise to Kworweinski, who has faced derogatory comments and unfair remarks from the same community in the past. These occurred when he was walking down Holland’s streets, the same streets where the march traveled shouting “Black Lives Matter,” which, he said, is “something that shouldn’t be controversial, but unfortunately is.”
He also said there were “a lot of people there, but not enough.” Although he agreed it was a decent turnout, he ultimately would have wanted more involvement and expects it in the future. The event was well received both on Hope’s campus and in the Holland community.
This event has kickstarted even more conversation and awareness, which has been increasing steadily in the past two years. “I think President Scogin has been a huge advocate and proponent in those changes in policy,” Kworweinski said. “He has only been our president for two years, but I have good faith in him and the changes he is going to make, especially with taking feedback and input from us.”
Speakers discussed after the march that the ongoing conversation around campus must be about social change. These kinds of changes are not rules or policy but efforts that begin with one student at a time. The way students treat one another walking on campus, in the classroom or at chapel are the biggest indicators of what needs to change. If nothing else, the hope is that Hope’s student body will make students of color feel welcome.
The bottom line for Kworweinski is that people need to start with these everyday social changes and realize their place in the bigger worldwide community. This march is only a part of something much bigger.
The next person I spoke with was Campus Safety Officer Albino Rio. He also attended the march, although not quite intentionally. Since this event was unofficial and student-led, no one besides the students really knew that it was occurring. Rio was on duty that Saturday and decided to check out what was going on in the crowded Pine Grove.
He didn’t really have expectations when he walked into the large group of people that afternoon, but the turnout of students was initially surprising, considering that it was organized purely through social media and word of mouth. There were no signs around campus, and it was assembled quietly. As a staff member, he “…stayed through the whole thing and was proud to be a part of it.”
Rio was also surprised that the march exceeded the borders of campus and went down 8th Street; he was interested to see what Hope would say about the march leaving campus, especially with President Scogin among the crowd. Migrating downtown was a bold statement, but it was one of the moments Rio was most proud to be a part of: “…By marching off campus, the community can see that we at Hope see value in what is going on in our nation and care.”
Rio echoed that the march and calls for justice shouldn’t end here. This isn’t a one-protest-and-forget issue at Hope. He suggested some more follow-up, such as formally planned and student-led speeches, events and dialogues. This is a “high priority call to action” that can no longer be left on the sidelines.
This conversation is nothing new. It must not be silenced and needs to be treated with respect and value. The biggest thing the student body can do is listen, even to things they may never fully understand, and be inclusive as a college, as an organization and as people. This conversation affects the whole community, and it has never been more important to empathize with the needs and struggles of all and to march beside each other.