Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
An estimated 300 students gathered in remembrance of Michael Brown and Ferguson on Friday, September 26. The event was organized by Louis Laine ‘16, Soul Han ‘15, Arjun Raghuraman ‘16, and Steve Sekula ‘17.
The event began on Sharples porch, where Matthew Armstead ’08 spoke about his experience on the ground in Ferguson. Armstead, a community organizer based in Philadelphia, recently returned to Pennsylvania after spending three weeks aiding Ferguson organizers. After encouraging the crowd to pause and look around at their friends and peers that had gathered, he led the crowd gathered in what he said was a favorite call and response cheer. “I am!” he shouted, to which the crowd responded, “Mike Brown!”
After Armstead concluded, he led the group up Magill Walk, past signs bearing the names and ages of victims of police brutality. These signs included Trayvon Martin, 17, Nehemiah Dillard, 29, and Aiyana Jones, 7. Han said that prominently displaying the names of victims “was powerful strategy to arouse people.” The names, he said, “showed to us how prevalent the violence that stems out of systematic oppression is in our society.”
The large crowd gathered in the amphitheater, where Vice President for College and Community Relations Maurice Eldridge ‘61, Professor of Sociology Sarah Willie-LeBreton, and Director of Intercultural Center and Dean of the Sophomore Class Amer Ahmed spoke.
Vice President Eldridge spoke about his experiences as a young black man in what he called the “small southern town” of Washington, DC. He had family in Mississippi, and would often visit them, travelling by (segregated) train with his mother. Eldridge said he “grew up afraid, not trusting police” and stopped visiting Mississippi after the 1955 murder of teenager Emmett Till. Eldridge shared that he still fears for the safety of his family: “Do I tell my oldest grandson, who’s a high school senior, ‘No, don’t wear a hoodie, don’t go out alone’?”
Professor Willie-LeBreton spoke about the need for community support and action in the wake of violence, saying, “we need each other to survive and thrive.” She challenged students to “discover with [her] what is really going on…and then [asked] them to engage.” She encouraged students to make “our culture into one in which we want to belong, and in which we belong to each other.”
Dean Ahmed began his remarks by sharing that he was from a town in Ohio not far from Dayton, where John Crawford III was shot by police in a Wal-Mart. He then spoke about his own experiences with racial profiling before saying “Michael Brown was not the first, and he will not be the last.”
After Eldridge and Willie-LeBreton spoke, the floor opened to students who wished to speak. Students who spoke mentioned family and friends who were incarcerated, state violence, and their own own experiences. When the sun set, the audience lit candles and had a short moment of silence.
Laine and Han both said they see the event as a success. Han was impressed by the number of attendees, and said the vigil was “silent but powerful.” Laine and Han are not sure what form future action will take, but Laine said there will “definitely be more events like this.” “We have to figure out which way is most powerful … to channel the community’s energy,” said Han, “and what targets beyond Swarthmore [we] should aim for.” Laine agreed, saying “#Race2Action is not going anywhere. We just got started.”
Photos by Chiara Kruger ’17/The Daily Gazette
Correction: A previous version of this story listed Vice President Maurice Eldridge as from the class of 1969. The Daily Gazette apologizes for this error.