TU community members take a stand, attend BLM rallies - The University of Tulsa

TU community members take a stand, attend BLM rallies

During the past two weeks, communities across the country held rallies in solidarity with African Americans such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery who have lost their lives unjustly to police brutality because of the color of their skin. TU students, faculty and staff attended the peaceful protests in Tulsa to make a stand against racism and fight for progress.

Gavin Burl – TU Law, 3L

My parents taught me at a young age to make myself appear less threatening so that I may not be murdered when confronted by the police. But as I marched in protest against police brutality and racism in America, I reflected on just how shatteringly useless that advice was.
Eric Garner had just broken up a fight.
Tamir Rice was playing in a park.
Philando Castile was driving home from dinner with his girlfriend.
Botham Jean was eating ice cream in his living room in Dallas.
Atatiana Jefferson was babysitting her nephew at home in Fort Worth, Texas.
Breonna Taylor was asleep in her bed.
Ahmaud Arbery was going for a run.
And George Floyd was at the grocery store.
My very existence as a black man in America makes me a threat.
My very existence as a black man in America comes with a death sentence that can be invoked by law enforcement for any reason or no reason at all.
But I will fight for my right to live.
Because my life matters.

Gavin Burl - TU Law, 3L marching on Tulsa's Brookside
Burl marching on Tulsa’s Brookside

Namera Newaz – Physiology Student

Sunday, May 31, was a very humbling experience for me because I had the opportunity to attend the Black Lives Matter rally in the Greenwood district. I am very passionate and vocal about global issues, but this was my very first time ever experiencing a protest/rally. When I first arrived on the field, I was surprised, and tears began to form in my eyes once I saw the thousands of people coming together peacefully. Toward the end of the protest, there was an unfortunate incident that took place, which made me feel concerned for my safety for a split second, but I realized that’s a fraction of what people in the black community feel on a day-to-day basis because of the injustice and inequality that they face. The protesters were beyond supportive and helpful to one another before and after the incident. I’m thankful I got to attend because I have never experienced or have been exposed to anything like this, and I now feel more educated about the situation. Speaking up about issues does indeed make a difference. I hope we can soon get rid of the racism that exists in our nation.

Newaz and friends at a Tulsa BLM rally
Newaz and friends at a Tulsa BLM rally

Amanda Chastang – Director of Multicultural Affairs and Office of Diversity and Engagement Associate

I won’t lie, making the decision to attend the Black Lives Matter protest on May 31, 2020, in the midst of COVID-19, I was nervous. Knowing that I have an immune-compromised system, I had to be honest with myself and ask the question, “Is it worth the risk?” After hours of an internal debate with myself, I decided that I needed to be present and be a part of making history. I needed to protest for change and reform while walking on the same grounds where so many black Americans were stripped of their homes, businesses, families and their lives just 99 years ago. I needed to honor the hard-working Black citizens who built a thriving Black Wall Street by taking a stand to end the massacres of black and brown people.

As I walked toward the Greenwood Cultural Center, I was surprised to see a group of TU colleagues showing their support. I don’t know how I saw them through the large crowd, but I was glad to see people who I work with daily take the time to actively support and stand with people who don’t look like them. Once the march started, people began to express the various ways to show their support for social justice. People started raising their pre-made signs, handing out flowers, singing, chanting and even playing the drums as we marched. In this moment, I felt a sense of solace and joy. To see people advocating for change, actively calling out racist behavior and be surrounded by people who chanted “Black Lives Matter,” I felt a sense of relief and actually believed that real change may finally happen. The love I felt from so many strangers coming together was overwhelming. I finally didn’t have to validate my existence on this earth, instead others were advocating for me and so many other black people who have had to “prove” that their life means something.

Unfortunately, this euphoric feeling didn’t last and I was quickly snapped back into reality when I heard the screams. This peaceful protest was infiltrated by hate when a white man decided to plow his truck and trailer through a group of protesters. I was reminded, in the worst way, of why we were protesting in the first place. It’s the unfortunate reality that black people, and often times the allies who stand with us, don’t matter to so many of those who want racist systems of oppression to continue running this country and to keep specific entities, white supremacist values, in places of power. We can’t afford to get complacent or satisfied with mediocre policy adjustments. We have to keep advocating and demanding nationwide structural change. Until every life truly matters, we can’t, and won’t, stop fighting for social justice.

Jordan Poorman Cocker – Curatorial Scholar for Native American Art at Gilcrease Museum

All people have an ethical and logical imperative to support this movement of justice toward equity for human life. Decolonizing comes at the cost of first recognizing and then shifting the devastatingly inhumane impacts of colonialism on people of color including black folk as well as my own Indigenous communities.

As for hate, I heard none.
As for violence, it was absent.
As for love, I could feel it.
As for togetherness, it invited me forward.
Ending systemic racism and institutional racism should be a societal norm.

“White Supremacy is a myth, that was constructed out of the desperate white need to justify their vicious, violent and dehumanizing actions toward people of color over history and today.
In order to soothe their consciousness around enslavement, massacre, (genocide), segregation, police brutality, and the like, white society invests in the attempt for justification.

Exploring these irrational yet often widely ‘woven into society’ narratives helps us to recognize the consequences that show up still today.” –Rachel Cargle

Kirsten Robertson – Crisis and Outreach Coordinator

When I arrived at the BLM march in Tulsa on Sunday, I was invigorated to see so many people showing their support and standing together to honor the anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and the lives of those lost tragically present day. Black Lives Matter and injustice has to stop. My only regret is that I haven’t used my voice louder, or sooner, but regardless, it is needed now. We have to stand together, all of us, to change systems that do not serve all people and actively cause harm.

If you don’t understand what is going on or why this is so important, educate yourself.  We must acknowledge and understand the ways these systems are kept in place and own our roles in it. Learn about the issues, and then see how you can be supportive of the communities most deeply affected by racism and injustice. Together, we can create something new. Something better. The time to act is now.

To those who already know about the issues and experience the brunt of racism firsthand, my heart goes out to you, and I am deeply sorry this is the world we live in. I will work alongside you to help dismantle these systems and be supportive and active to help create much-needed change.

Joanne Davis – Professor of Psychology

In spite of the risks related to large public gatherings due to COVID-19, I had to be at the Black Lives Matter rally on Sunday. My family spent the days prior to the rally talking about how to be allies, what our role at the protest should be ​as white folk, and what we would do if ​things​ were escalated toward violence by police as we had seen in earlier protests, though we expected it to be a peaceful rally.

The Black Lives Matter rally and protest was powerful in its grief and anger, but also in a sense of community and hope. Gathering on Greenwood on the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre seemed to heighten those feelings. Aggravating the grief and anger in the recognition of how little we have traveled since that day ​and how far we have to go.

One of my sons was on the highway when the truck sped through the crowd of protesters, injuring three. For a few moments, I did not know if he was one of those who was struck. I always worry about my boys when they are out and about, but I know that the terror I felt in those few moments is terror felt by mothers of black sons all the time. I also know that our system is not broken. It is operating exactly as it was set up to work when our country was founded. It is inherently racist and oppressive to black people and people of color. This system has to change; that starts with acknowledging how wrong it is.

Kelsey Hancock – Violence prevention program coordinator

On Sunday, I stood with my partner, my sister and our sons silent on the 244 bridge, except to chant “Black Lives Matter.” Our middle son was near the truck when it drove through the crowd and we didn’t know if he was alive or dead. It filled us with terror. This terror is the lived reality of our fellow black Americans at all times. For this reason, no matter the terror we feel, we will continue to protest and rally over and over again in different ways. We must not stop.

The time is long overdue to amplify black voices and this is done through action.
Stand with your fellow Americans.
Donate your time and money to black-owned businesses.
Follow and read black authors and educators.
Donate to bail funds.
Sign petitions for justice.
Educate yourselves.
Show up. Just as your life matters, BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Janet Levit – Interim President

I had never attended a public protest until the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, D.C. After watching the video of a white police officer heartlessly killing George Floyd, an unarmed, handcuffed, black man, I found myself and my 18-year-old daughter marching along Tulsa’s Brookside on May 30. We chanted. We communed – safely, with masks. We shared our grave concerns about systemic racism.

In this moment where we have been physically distant from others for such a long time, I wanted to stand side-by-side, in solidarity with our black sisters and brothers. Yet, it was tense; men walked the route with open-carry rifles, and the armed police presence was significant.

On any given day, I deal with important but somewhat mundane issues like budgets and the nitty-gritty of how we will reopen our campus. It is important for me, as the interim leader of the university, to carve out time for foundational issues and questions, to take a stand for justice, for humanity, for equality and for black lives.

In times like these, I find solace in my Jewish upbringing and community. In this instance, I reflect on the Hebrew word “Hineini.” It translates to “Here I am.” Sometimes, it is important to simply show up and be present. I do not want our black students, faculty, staff and friends to feel alone. I am here.