Black Lives Matter – A Campaign for Equality

Story and Media by Josh Skluzacek, NewsNetNebraska 

“You might not feel our pain, but you’re gonna hear our purpose.” Those were words spoken by Carnetta Griffin, a UNL graduate student, at the UNL Black Lives Matter rally on November 19. Griffin was just one of nine at the rally who spoke to give racial issues at UNL the attention many felt they deserve.

From the Beginning to the Action

Over the past several months, and even years, the issue of racial equality has burst onto the national scene. With this, the Black Lives Matter campaign has been at the forefront of the media’s attention, primarily because of the many events that have taken place during this time period.

The deaths of at least six young African-Americans by police have charged the black community and helped push the concerns of the Black Lives Matter campaign to a national stage. But without a doubt, the recent happenings at the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) pushed things over the top and made addressing racial discrimination at Nebraska a priority for many students.

“We are a reactionary society,” said Danielle Young, another one of the speakers at the rally, “and we wanted to bring the conversation to the table before we reached the level of Mizzou, Yale or Harvard.”

Young, a sophomore and a co-founder of the #NotAtUNL campaign talked about the lack of recognition racial issues get at UNL, saying that many students and professors don’t believe racism actually occurs on campus. That, she says, is part of the problem and part of the reason the rally was organized.

“This is not going to be easy,” Young told the crowd, which was estimated by several media outlets at nearly 500. “This is going to be hard and uncomfortable. But this is not about comfort.”

Young urged the crowd to work together to stop racism on campus, warning that otherwise it could get worse. She highlighted that UNL could be an example for other universities, but in order for that to happen, racism at UNL must not only be recognized but then stomped out.

Leading up to the rally, many people posted on the group’s Facebook page with angry and racist remarks. People saying black lives don’t matter and making awful, and occasionally threatening, comments were abundant, but the so was the support, including support from many faculty members, including Chancellor Harvey Perlman. The group stayed strong and held the rally because they knew the issues needed to be talked about, openly and bluntly.

Trevor Obermueller, a sophomore at UNL and another of the speakers at the rally, openly recognized and talked about racism. Obermueller, who is white, started his speech by making a confession.

“My name is Trevor Obermueller, and I have white privilege.” Obermueller continued, “When asked where I’m from, no one is surprised to hear that I came from Nebraska. When I go into a store, no one follows me because of the way I look.”

Obermueller highlighted many simple acts that people routinely do in daily life. However, because he isn’t black, Obmueller said he doesn’t have to worry about unwarranted attention or dealing with certain stereotypes.

In fact, many on campus are in the same situation as Obermueller. Most, in fact. And that seems to be partially causing the rift between the many who support the Black Lives Matter campaign and those who just want it to go away.

Griffin, Young, and the rest of the speakers pointed out that the rally was to make people aware of discrimination, spark conversations and hopefully ignite change. But just like conversation is a prerequisite to change, each side gaining an understanding of each other might be a prerequisite to equality and acceptance.

Two days before the rally at UNL, Chancellor Perlman, Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Ronnie Green, and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Juan Franco, sent out an email to staff and students supporting the rally and students on campus.

“Black lives do matter,” the letter said. “Those lives are often lived under circumstances others don’t see. I hope you will join us on Thursday as we listen and seek to better understand each other.”

The three did attend the rally and promised to work toward change, although no specific plans have been announced thus far.

Hear from another of the speakers, Catelyn Evans, below.

Catelyn Evans

Click the picture below to see a Black Lives Matter timeline of events.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 2.26.02 PM

A Search for Understanding

Currently, the two sides are clashing, and it seems to be causing things to get worse. Protestors across the nation march and block highways, and occasionally end up not entirely peaceful, like when rocks were thrown at police in Minneapolis just a couple weeks ago.

In turn, people seem to get turned off to the Black Lives Matter campaign because of these things and put more blame on the protestors. Of course, that only angers the protestors more, and here we are, stuck in a cycle that seems to be doing more harm than good.

But it’s not necessarily bad. While it seems bad now, the Young is right. Conversation is essential, and yes, it is going to be hard. There’s going to be small victories and setbacks as well. Ultimately, though, it’s about creating enough awareness and conversation to  get it all out in the open. When that happens, it’s only a matter of time before people unite, because there’s no room for discrimination of any kind in society.

Two people who attended the rally, Sarah Loeffler and Brena Andrews had the same message: This is important and deserves attention. Keep talking about the issues and concerns, they said, and eventually it will lead to change.
(see more of their comments at the 5:20 mark in the video below)

At a time when racial issues are taking the spotlight and more seem to be popping up every day, it was time for UNL to address its own problems. But the rally can’t be the end of it. The administration must address the students, and must outline rules and plans to eliminate discrimination and even help improve diversity. Currently, about 2.5 percent of students at UNL are African American, according to Forbes. That equates to about 600 students, and far less if you factor out athletes who live and mainly operate apart from other students.

But to stop discrimination, the students will play the biggest part. Just like those who organized the rally, it’s important for students to unite and actually put a stop to discrimination. If jokes continue to be made and people still treat others differently, then nothing is happening.

The solution is simple: Keep talking about the problems and don’t allow them to keep taking place. Call somebody out for saying something racist or making a bad joke. It’s the little things that can lead to big changes.

But for now, at UNL, students have to be happy. This is progress. An important step has been taken. Now it’s on all of us to keep improving until we finally find true equality. As Griffin said, “This isn’t the end; this is just the beginning.”

To view additional and extended speeches, please watch the video below.

Hear some of the chants that the UNL Black Lives Matter rally ended with, below.

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