by, Pete Janny, Zoe DeFazio, & Brian Asare, Sports Editor, Staff Writer, & Photography Editor
Fifty-seven years have passed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s world-renowned “I have a dream” speech. In that span, there have been steps forward and steps back in the fight for equality for Black Americans. In 2020, Black Lives Matter exists as an unwritten continuation of the civil rights movement.
The Manhattan College women’s basketball team, in consultation with six other campus groups, held a BLM vigil on the quadrangle on the evening of Monday, Oct. 19. At the start of the event, the students and administrators in attendance stood quietly in solidarity over the flickering lights of the electronic candles that were passed out by the team. From there, team members and other volunteers stood in front of a microphone choking back tears as they recited poems, talked about their own experiences of racism or being racially profiled, and announced the names of Black men and women whose lives were taken at the hands of police officers.
By choosing to organize the gathering, the women’s basketball team in effect took the conversation about racial justice to the next level to spread awareness for the cause on campus. The actions of the team could serve as a blueprint to other sports teams on campus looking to take a stand against racism and other prominent injustices.
“I think it’s important to know that we all have a power to do something about the things we think are wrong and we can all, as shown tonight, use our voices and speak out,” Kelly Carroll, assistant director of sports communication, said. “I think what’s so great about the Manhattan community is that so many people showed up tonight with different experiences, different backgrounds, different genders, and different races, and they all said we stand with you and we want to make this world a better place with you.”
The silence that settled over the crowd was noteworthy.
Students and administration standing on the grass listened intently to the anecdotes and pleas for change that emanated from the steps of Smith Auditorium — many were overcome with emotion themselves for those who have been targets of racism.
When reflecting on the horrors of police brutality and racial profiling, senior communications major Cedric St. Louis reminisced on the effects his skin color had on his upbringing.
“From a very young age, I was told I’m Black and I have to be careful because I don’t know who’s on my side and I don’t know who’s against me,” St. Louis said. “So I’ve been cautious, you know? I think Black people have to deal with being cautious all the time and that affects our relationship with other people. But from a very young age, I was taught that I was Black and how I should navigate the world.”
The concerns about one’s racial identity extend into adulthood for some as well — as shown by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake.
Kiambra Griffin, director of women’s basketball operations, is well aware of the rigid stereotypes reserved for Black people. It’s hard for her to fathom the universal assumptions made for people of color, prompting her to consider the worst-case scenarios for her own life. Fortunately, places like campus foster a sense of inclusivity and support for Griffin as a Black woman. It is moments like last Monday that reaffirm Griffin’s worldview that there is still more good than bad in the world.
“There’s always a question, an overarching question over your head ‘Am I next?’ There’s never a day where I don’t think ‘am I next?’ but I also know there’s just a community of support around and I think that’s what’s going to keep us pressing, keep us moving forward,” Griffin said. “The ‘am I next?’ is always there but we have to think beyond that. There are more good people in this world than there are bad and that’s what’s gonna keep us pressing forward. I always have a sense of pride as a Black woman, it’s no more, and it’s no less. Black lives do matter and you should shout it from the rooftops if you can.”
There is more than a morsel of truth to the idea that social wounds can be healed when people buy into the end goal. In unprecedented fashion, the women’s basketball team went above and beyond to help raise the voices of those marginalized. In just 10 months of 2020, America and the world has faced a great number of challenges, but while the virus will one day be a memory of the past, the sight at last Monday’s vigil will not fade from Manhattan College’s memory.