By Hannah Gonzalez
After attending a prayer service in the University Chapel, students marched through campus, chanting and holding signs to bring awareness to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. The event held on Sept. 29, called “Say Their Names,” was hosted by the theology department, though it received sponsorship from a wide variety of departments and organizations across campus.
The event was co-sponsored by the theology department, ASILI, Fordham Students United, the department of African and African-American Studies, Peace and Justice Studies Program, Theology Graduate Students Association, Comparative Literature Program, Curran Center for American Catholic Studies, English department, Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice, Office of Campus Ministry and Latin American and Latino Studies Institute.
Kwamesha Joseph, FCRH ’18, was one of the chief organizers of the event. “It isn’t about feeling sorry for the black people,” said Joseph. “It’s about knowing that something is wrong and working towards changing that. That means having the uncomfortable conversation about privilege and about the struggles that black and brown people are plagued with in spaces where our voices are muted out.”
According to Paul Schutz of the Theology Department, the goal for Fordham is to raise awareness of the issues and to stand in solidarity with the victims and their families.
“We of all schools need to take a stand,” Schutz said. “We were so overwhelmed and grateful for all these departments and groups that offered sponsorship. It was an action of the whole Fordham community,” he said. “It originated from the Theology Department, and we were responsible for organizing it, but we all owned it, sponsored it and shared it together.”
Though organizers expected only 40 to 50 students, around 180 students gathered in the University Chapel for the prayer service. It opened with an introduction by Rev. Bryan Massingale of the Theology Department. “We gather because of two shared convictions,” he said. “The first is that all lives are sacred and of infinite value… And the second conviction, because of that first, is that we must stand with those whose lives are not considered sacred, who are regarded with fear and suspicion.”
Massingale’s welcome address was followed by a hymn, prayer and readings from the Bible and Holy Qur’an. He then gave the homily, saying, “Love is not anemic and love is not passive and love is not weak. Love demands that we show up and speak out.”
Next, writer and performer Adanze Unaegbu, FCRH ‘17, performed a piece she had written in response to the Sandra Bland case. “After all this time, we’re still fighting for our lives,” she sang. The choir sang Amazing Grace, and between the verses the names of victims of police brutality were read out. A moment of silence and closing prayer ended the service.
After the service, students who wanted to participate in the march gathered on the steps of the church. From there, Schutz and Joseph led the students in chants as they made their way to the Fountain Plaza. Some students held posters advocating Black Lives Matter and called for the Fordham community to “work for justice.”
Various cultural backgrounds were represented in the ranks of protesters. Katlin Hiciano, FCRH ‘20, had always felt a personal connection to the struggle for justice. “I grew up in a Hispanic family, and we were surrounded by other minorities,” she said. “It’s always been a constant in my life that we have to stand up for others.”
Once the group reached the fountain, Schutz and Joseph called students to action. “I hope that by my words, you guys become eager to take the initiative and educate yourselves,” said Joseph; she closed by saying, “I ask that you remember that you can only say that all lives matter when black lives matter as well.”
Students who participated in Say Their Names had largely positive responses to the event. “I’m appreciative that this is a start,” said Hiciano. “I think it’s a good step to start getting people aware and take steps to, maybe not end, because that’s a lot to ask, but at least minimize injustice,” she said. “I think we caught the attention of some bystanders. I hope from what was said that not only those who participated but those who were watching will set forth action for justice.”
Schutz affirmed that raising awareness in the community was one of the primary aims of Say Their Names. “On one hand, cura personalis is caring for those who have been victimized,” he said. “The other part of cura personalis is the idea of awareness. Part of our care for the whole Fordham community is through raising provocative questions and issues, and by getting them to think on levels that they don’t normally have occasion to think.”
In the coming weeks, Joseph hopes to put together a panel discussion with those who have lost family members to police brutality.