Editor in Chief
On Saturday, Sept. 26, downtown Wooster hosted the 118th continuous day of Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations. Students, faculty and staff gathered at the corner of Market St. and Liberty St. from 12-2 p.m. to speak out against racial injustices in the United States, namely the killing of numerous Black individuals by police officers.
Assistant Professor of Political Science Désirée Weber who has been involved in the daily protests throughout the summer, stressed the importance of applying pressure to the system.
“The duration of the protests so far reflects the will and energy in the Wooster community to bring attention to these issues — but more importantly, it reflects the perseverance that’s needed to address deeply rooted issues of racism,” she said. “The status quo and the powers that be aren’t easily shifted — as we have seen many times — so our collective efforts need to be focused on the longer-term timeline.”
Weber explained that the Wayne County Racial Justice Coalition, Wooster-Orville NAACP and other local groups are trying to change local police policies, including the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
Even though these protests have been happening throughout the summer, the protest on Saturday was different because it was organized by student leaders, according to Weber and Associate Professor of Political Science Michelle Leiby.
“The most significant difference was the size and the overwhelming support and energy that the college students brought to the square,” Leiby said. “It was breathtaking and uplifting.”
Men of Harambee (MOH), a fraternal organization geared toward males of African descent or from developing nations, were the main coordinators of the event. However, Perry Worthey ’21, vice president of MOH, made it clear that it was the coordination of the Wooster community that allowed the event to be held successfully.
“We could not have done the demonstration without the help of the community members that have been protesting downtown every single day for the last 118 days,” he said. “They were [the] catalyst that started it all and should be recognized as such.”
Worthey went on to thank students both on and off campus who shared social media posts with details about the protest. “We, the Men of Harambee, could not have had the turnout we did without the support of our Black community and allies,” he said.
According to MOH, several messages were stressed during the two-hour gathering, the first of which centered around Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker from Kentucky. Taylor was shot and killed by officers in March during a nighttime raid on her apartment. One of the officers, Brett Hankison, was charged with wanton endangerment for firing his weapon recklessly into the apartment, while the other two officers who shot Taylor faced no charges, according to the New York Times.
“We wanted people to understand that the Black community is hurting from the decisions made pertaining to the murder of Breonna Taylor,” Worthey said. “We are sick of those who are sworn to protect us getting away with murdering us.”
Worthey enumerated that Black women in the country and on Wooster’s campus deserve better treatment. “They are treated as if they are invisible even though it is their beauty, their intelligence and their passions that give us the strength to not be bystanders and fight for what we believe in,” he said. “To every fraternity, sorority and organization on campus: Black women deserve better.”
Hiku Sherief ’21, president of Alpha Gamma Phi, noted the importance of Greek Life organizations’ presence at the event, especially because of the recent developments with Taylor.
“I think attending the protest is important not just for Alpha Gamma, but for the entire Wooster community,” Sherief said. “It is an extremely significant movement against an unjust killing of an innocent Black woman, and we wanted to demonstrate the unfair verdict that was passed on the subject of her killing. After all, we have Black women in our organization who have been directly impacted by recent events and everyone wanted to take this opportunity to showcase their support towards our BIPOC sisters.” She added that her sorority will continue to hold conversations regarding racial injustice.
Katie Harvey ’21, a lacrosse player who attended the protest with her team, also highlighted the importance of players being present for their teammates and engaging in this dialogue.
“Athletic teams can be a great place for camaraderie and friendship, but they can also breed discrimination and exclusion,” Harvey said. “It is imperative for myself, as a student-athlete, to show my dedication to combating the systemic marginalization of my teammates, my friends, my coworkers and my mentors. The protest was one small way that I could show that dedication.”
Annays Yacamán ’22, another attendee, acknowledged why it is crucial for non-Black people of color and white allies to support BLM.
“I think it is incredibly important for all of as non-Black individuals to show up for the Black folks in our communities,” Yacamán said. “At Wooster, Black students, faculty and staff experience the ingrained and institutionalized racism and Blackness that is [not only] violent [but also] bars people from having the so-called ‘Wooster experience.’ We must show the Black people in our community that they matter, and that we are willing to sacrifice our comfortability as non-Black individuals going to these protests.”
According to Weber, almost 400 people were present at the protest during its peak, but Worthey stressed that the number didn’t matter.
“We didn’t bother counting [because] we didn’t care if three or 300 people showed up,” he said “We are happy that so many people came out and supported, but that was not our focus. We wanted to make sure that our organization is living up to the principles that we preach, and action is being taken. We would’ve still been outside no matter who showed up.”
Regarding what students can continue to do, Leiby explained that protests will continue from 12-1 p.m. everyday downtown. The protest organizers also hand out BLM postcards for attendees to send to their representatives to advocate for change. Those who are unable to attend the daily protests to pick up a postcard should contact Weber for more information on how to get them.
“If I had one message,” Leiby stated, “it would be for our Mayor, City Council and Sheriff’s Department: We’re not going anywhere. Where are you? What do you have to say to members of your community suffering from the effects of systemic racism (whether in the police force, the healthcare industry, the public school system, etc.)? Your silence and inaction is unacceptable.”