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Reflection on last week’s Ferguson vigil

*The candlelight vigil was hosted Dec 3 in the Centrum to grieve and reflect on Michael Brown and the grand jury decision in Ferguson, MO.

I write from a place of deep anguish. After a complicated week of organizing a large-scale candlelight vigil for the events surrounding Ferguson, MO and now, all over the nation, I am exhausted. This exhaustion is not from lack of sleep, nor is it the stress of too much schoolwork. It comes from a place within the system of morals I hold deep within me. I believe it necessary to explain my exhaustion in light of the candlelight vigil, the murder of Michael Brown, and how it relates to the campus community.

There have been critiques of the candlelight vigil, all of which I have been very much aware of. Questions were raised about the necessity of such an event – why did the event happen now, but not before? Who is the event really benefiting? And, is the event even an appropriate one to host?

I do not believe these critiques were raised out of malice. In fact, far from it. In past years, I would have raised the same critiques myself, being the “newly enlightened” Intercultural Affairs intern and ready to change the world. I wanted a purpose for my newfound activism spirit, a tangible outcome to satiate this thirst for justice, for meaning. I did not have time for fluffy events that did not call for action, nor activities that did not bring about immediate change.

However, in my experience with Concordia, reality is far from the hopes I had as a newly minted sophomore. My efforts to motivate other individuals to talk about race on campus proved frustrating; Tea House, a space hosted by Intercultural Affairs to speak about social issues, had very poor attendance save for a dedicated few (and I’m talking two people, sometimes only one); SGA committees I’ve worked with in the past have tiptoed around the word race, trying hard to be supportive but failing to critically engage when I needed it (and making racist jokes on top of it all). Let’s not forget the outcry about the advertising for the Tunnel of Oppression last year either, in which none of the Black Student Union (BSU) members nor any other black folks were contacted about the issues that arise with the usage of the N-word and its marketability. This is the campus culture, and the campus cannot deny it –bound by the social obligations of “Minnesota nice” but unable to suppress repulsion of the “other”, the 2% – 5%, I forget the exact number, of students who are nonwhite, students of color, students who need the most support in this homogenous community and yet receive so little. Campus does not give the support they need to give because they feel they are doing “enough”. That by simply having us here – me, Simón, Mai – they have given all they can give, and shouldn’t it be enough?

With this campus climate in mind, I set out to host this candlelight vigil. Hosting a panel discussion was out of the question – why should students of color be tokenized as the voices of all the people of color? Why are these students, students like me, only given attention when campus needs another excuse to uphold its image of “inclusion”?  And most importantly, why should I host an event geared towards a white audience? I have tried, and failed, over the past three years to do just that. And it has been exhausting.

No, this candlelight vigil, whether anyone knew it or not, was not for the campus community. Instead of giving the campus an event it did not even want (because let’s face it, who expected the majority of campus to show up? I did not, and for once in my entire college career, I did not care), I was going to give this event to the people who needed it the most – to the students of color, especially the black students. They – I – needed a safe space to grieve and mourn not only Michael Brown, Eric Garner and countless others, but also the state of this country, the white supremacy it upholds, and the injustice aimed towards black bodies. This space, for me, would be the place where other people of color may enter, and know they have entered a place of solidarity and friendship. This was my hope.

And in that respect, it succeeded. My pain and anger felt justified as we sang and prayed and recited poems throughout the service. I cried and thought, and cried some more. I held hands with strangers, hugged friends, and sat alone to think about Michael Brown, police brutality, and antiblackness. I spoke with other students of color, who were glad there was this space. I spoke with white friends, who knew this space was not for them. This event was for us, the students of color. This event was a private moment for the ones who grieved with us, who showed support in a way that was more intimate than I had ever known at Concordia. And for once in these last four years, I was glad to be a part of it.

This article was submitted by Amy Tran, contributing writer.

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