Black students rally for safety, equality

Senior Novella Blackmon creates a poster for a rally held Tuesday in the Martin Luther King Jr. Commons. Students at the rally called for unity and an end to inequality and police brutality. “The purpose of this rally is to awaken the ones who are sleep and bring light to darkness,” Blackmon said.

By Kelly Bauer & Andre Phillips

Students are seeking ways to unify DeKalb’s black community and put an end to inequality, topics which were discussed at a Tuesday rally.

The rally was organized by Stephen Samuels, graduate adult and higher education student, to spread awareness of the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray, who was black, died from spinal injuries after being arrested by police, sparking protests in Baltimore over racial discrimination and police brutality.

Samuels said he was speaking to community members about the incidents in Baltimore and their “spirit was boiling” on Tuesday, leading to the rally in the Martin Luther King Jr. Commons.

Students created posters calling for equality and Samuels used the posters to foster a discussion about how black people are treated in the United States. Attendees also talked about Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Harris in Tulsa, Okla., black men who were killed by authorities in recent months.

Attendees debated the answer to a poster that read, “Is the destruction of property more important than the taking of a life?,” alluding to national discussion about the morality of property damage that has occurred during some of the protests in Baltimore.

“The purpose of this rally is to awaken the ones who are sleep and bring light to darkness,” said senior psychology major Novella Blackmon, who attended the rally.

Black students seek unity

After going through the posters, Samuels encouraged attendees to become involved in DeKalb, saying students should pool money from their NIU refund checks to create businesses and support the black community. Students should also vote in local elections to make themselves heard, Samuels said.

“What I want them to take away is continue the dialog, continue the discussion, but also think in a positive manner,” Samuels said.

After the discussion, attendees took turns addressing the crowd, with some calling for groups that support black students, like E.B.O.N.Y. Women and S.I.S.T.E.R.S., to work together and support each other.

Concerns over safety

Other speakers implored students to be safe over the summer, when crime tends to rise, saying Chicago is “bubbling” because of racial discrimination and “the fight [for equality] is coming to your front door.” Samuels told attendees they should stay out of Chicago and find things to do in DeKalb.

“I do not want to be the next hashtag,” Samuels said.

Student-at-large Khiry Johnson said he feels less safe in DeKalb than in Chicago, though, and he thinks “the revolution” for equality is “around the corner.” NIU must show students the university cares about them, Johnson said.

“… I think one of the best ways to revive that plant, the student body plant, is to let them know that, ‘We really love you. We’re going to protect you from outside forces’ — whether that be [the] DeKalb Police Department; unemployment, ’cause college unemployment is big and very unfortunate; as well as the housing situation. All of the lowest-costing dorms have been torn down or are overcrowded. What happens to less-fortunate students?” Johnson said.

“People are worried about Chicago, but I’m worried about becoming a hashtag here. … Being a hashtag in Chicago is a fear of mine, but being a hashtag in DeKalb is an even more real fear.”