“No justice, no peace.”
These were the words echoed by students, athletes and administrators as they gathered in unity for a Black Lives Matter protest and rally on campus on Wednesday, Oct. 21.
Hosted by the Stony Brook Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Black Student Athlete Huddle, about 200 attendees and students came together to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I came out because I felt that it was my duty as an African American woman to let my voice be heard in a primarily white university, especially in times like these when we’re seeing senseless killings of African Americans,” Rehanna Bertram, a sophomore biochemistry major, said. “I think now is a better time than any to stand up and use your voice.”
This protest follows a national outcry for racial justice after George Floyd was killed when a police officer knelt his knee on his neck. Athletes and their sports leagues have been using their platforms recently in order to stand in solidarity with the movement, and college athletes have followed.
The Black Student Athlete Huddle did the same, as they gathered student athletes from football, men’s basketball, women’s volleyball and many other teams to participate. Athletes wore black t-shirts that read “United we stand. Together we rise,” across the back of the shirt. Various faculty from athletics were also present.
Durron Newman, former assistant director of Operations and Marketing at the Recreation Center, was the former faculty advisor of the huddle and decided to attend the protest to show support.
“I miss my people,” Newman said. “One of my biggest things is advocacy and speaking out, and helping students understand that their voice is powerful. I think Stony Brook is doing what they can, but I think that with the student voices, it can be more.”
Protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter” and others held signs reading “Silence is compliance” and “My skin is not a sin,” as they looped around the academic mall.
Following the short walk, protestors gathered for an open forum in which various faculty members and students spoke about their view on the movement. Many faculty members also pointed out the significance in Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis joining the protest.
“I very much wanted to show my support for the message that the students who organized the events wanted to send supporting one another, saying that Black Lives Matter and being there for one another and for positive change,” McInnis said.
McInnis said that her general approach to issues regarding the university is to be present for the students.
“I want to show the students that I am listening and that I want to hear what’s on their minds,” she said.
Sam Kamara, a captain of the Stony Brook University football team and senior multidisciplinary studies major, believes the protest was an example of the university showing that they are open to change.
In response to the racial unrest, the university had sent out various emails and held virtual programs and events to discuss important topics, including the ongoing virtual town hall webinars for social justice.
Some Stony Brook students believe that the university can do much more in its response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s a movement, not a moment,” Oreoluwa Adewale, president of the Stony Brook NAACP chapter and a senior political science and Africana studies major, said. “And I think that right now a lot of people are taking the opportunity to say things that we knew already, and I would like to see a lot more action.”
Adewale said that accountability is something that the university needs to work on.
An Instagram account created over the summer, @blackatstony, has been sharing stories of racism and discrimination on-campus from various students of color.
“I’m happy with the acknowledgement that we’ve gotten from the higher ups, but that still doesn’t mean that all instances of racist behavior have been eradicated on campus,” Kayla Thompson, a senior astronomy major, said. “There’s still some work to do.”
Rick Gatteau, vice president of Student Affairs, said that the protest gave an opportunity for students to come together for the first time since the pandemic started to support important aspects of racial justice.
“I really want to encourage our students and community to really pay attention to the issue of Black Lives Matter, and that creating opportunity and equities within our space is something really, really important,” Gatteau said.
During the open forum, allyship and privilege were also brought up.
“I think the most important thing for us all to remember is that we all have a sphere of influence as an ally … and it’s about using that and speaking out when you can,” Cameron Avery, a member of the Stony Brook cross country team and a sophomore health science major, said.
Omar King, the running backs coach for the Stony Brook football team, encouraged students to cause effective change by working together to execute a plan.
“I’m going to champion each and every one of you to do your part,” he said. “Get to know one another. Have empathy for one another. Show love for one another.”
The protest gave Jarvis Watson, Assistant Dean of Multicultural Affairs, hope for change and showed him that the university has unity, love, respect and peace.
“We own this narrative, not anyone else,” Watson said. “In order you to shine light, you have to reimagine how you want this campus to be for yourself and for your brothers and sisters, but especially for the people coming behind you.”