Mercyhurst students came together last week to honor the victims of racial injustice and pray for peace and unity across the nation and withinthe local community.
Black Students for Unity hosted “Take Mercy: A Reflection of Current Events” on Wednesday, Sept. 28, in the Student Union Great Room.
The event was a collaborative effort between various campus groups, including the Multicultural Center, Campus Ministry, Mercyhurst Student Government and the university’s administration.
A main component of the vigil was honoring people of color who have lost their lives to police brutality. Mercyhurst students took turns reading a portion of these victim’s identities and the stories of how they died.
Deja Santiago, president of BSU and resident of the Bronx, New York, came up with the idea for the vigil over the summer.
“The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s death happened just days after the country celebrated its ‘independence.’ Their deaths after this day proved that not all people in America are free- and that was an unsettling thought,” Santiago said. “I lived in a city on edge, and I did not like the feelings of doom and anxiousness going around during this time. People of color were very hyperaware of their surroundings, and being a person of color I felt unsafe at home.”
The rest of the vigil included an original poem written and performed by Santiago, a prayer for non-violence said by Greg Baker, director of Campus Ministry; a prayer on mercy, lead by Sister Lisa Mary McCarthy; the music video for #WHEREISTHELOVE by the Black Eyed Peas ft. The World, a remake from the Black Eyed Peas ft. Justin Timberlake’s song, Where Is the Love, originally released in 2003; and a short reflection and thank you from Petrina Marerro, director of the Multicultural Center and staff adviser for BSU.
While the inspiration for the vigil came from feelings of racial injustice toward black citizens, and still was able to embody that, the goal of the event was to create a sense of unity among all skin colors, backgrounds and types of people.
“In the vigil, I think they did a really good job painting a picture of it not just being a matter of being ‘pro-black,’ or ‘this is a black issue against a white issue.’ It painted more of, ‘this is a societal issue,’ where the people that are supposed to protect and serve us are actually the ones who are harming us,” Char Luton, member of BSU, said.
Santiago also said she sees the importance of being unified.
“We are stronger together than we are divided, and I think that unity is just something we should all work towards because we are more similar than we were different,” Santiago said.
In addition to those involved in the planning, many members of the Mercyhurst community were present at the vigil, including Donald J. Fuhrmann, chief of Police and Safety, David Grabelski, professor of law enforcement intelligence and David Dausey, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs.
“I thought the vigil was thought out and was well coordinated. It was a good, peaceful outlet for students to show the Mercyhurst community how they felt about the events unfolding around them and the effect of those events on their lives,” Chief of Police and Safety Donald J. Fuhrmann said.Fuhrmann said he and the entire department of Police and Safety are willing to be proactive about an effort towards unity on campus.
“Mercyhurst Police and Safety Department will continue to be visible at events on campus and open to meeting with any student or student group. We realize that every interaction we have with a member of our Mercyhurst community is important and an opportunity to build a trusting relationship with them.”
Santiago and Luton both noticed many raw and emotional reactions to the vigil. According to them, there were some shocked faces and teary eyes in the audience.
“I think that the vigil helped people realize and acknowledge the severity of the context of the vigil’s main purpose: there is a problem with excessive use of deadly police force in America.
Black men are being killed three times the rate more than white men. White and Hispanic people make up the majority of deaths by police but the rate at which it happens to black individuals is much higher,” said Santiago. “This is a problem that is transcending skin color. We need to keep the people of America safe.”