By: TIARAH CHANDLER
At the end of my senior year of high school, I performed a group poem that started with the lines, “Black lives matter. When you break down matter to its purest form, it is light and energy.” Two years have passed and this subject has been brought to light and taken up a great deal of my energy. My friends and I have been voicing the tragic inequalities for years and the atrocities have not ceased. Although the proof that our lives don’t actually matter in America has revealed itself for hundreds of years, the media helps us see these truths tenfold. We have all of the tools to be informed and to protest, but it’s easy to see that they aren’t used to their full potential. I just can’t help but wonder where is the black unity at UT?
At this predominantly white institution (PWI), we, as in those who aren’t white, don’t see familiar faces too often. According to collegedata.com, African Americans make up 5.6 percent of our students whereas 66.4 percent are white Americans. This would make you assume that the few of us would confide in each other for comfort or familiarity – the way America treats black people often heightens this assumption. I am the Student Government representative of the Black Student Union and our weekly attendance is usually very low. I can name most of the people at UT who look like me, but I don’t know many of these similar looking people on a personal level. I question what it is about the Black Student Union that turns students away from our organization. We provide a safe space for black students to voice their feelings and opinions. We also like to inform those students who are not of color that have a burning curiosity about those who are different. After our first couple of meetings, the attendance rate plummeted. We easily went from 30 students to about eight or 10. What are other organizations doing that we are missing? The Black Student Union strives to bring together students of color in this oppressive world, but we cannot succeed without ever actually coming together.
Most minority groups at UT seem to flock together, though. Different international students are often seen together building relationships within their own safe zones. African American students in small cliques are found all over campus and I wish we could all be friends. The alleged Willie Lynch letters have given us an idea of why we’re all separated and in such desperate competition with one another, but we need to come together. Separation makes us weak. Separation also gives those outsiders another reason to bring us down. If we aren’t for each other, then who could be for us?
A close friend of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous due to personal reasons, has attended a couple of Black Student Union meetings at the University of South Florida. She let me in on the fact that their attendance wasn’t much better than that of the UT’s. Their black community is much larger than ours, and it makes me speculate the real issue. I figured that black unity was more of a hashtag than a reality in certain places. Attending a PWI should entail unity amongst those few students that look like you and share experiences in common. Somehow, the opposite of this assumption is often true. Using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on your social media platforms does not prove that we matter. Feeling like you are in competition with those few black people around also leads one in the wrong direction. To be progressive, we must progress together. We need to move as one!
I attend Black Student Union meetings every Monday at 7:30 p.m. in Walker Lecture Hall B. These meetings are welcome to those of all walks of life, but they are heavily encouraged for black students. This organization can become a home for you. We want more people to come to our meetings to have some kind of safe space. If you have any suggestions as to how we can make the organization better, we are all ears. Your black life matters and you are not alone on this campus. Bring your friends of all ethnicities. Most importantly, we want you to feel safe and welcome. Unity will help us move forward instead of staying separated and in the dark. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers”.
Unity may not be as simple as he described, but we owe it to him to give it a try.