Amid ongoing protests in Baltimore contesting police brutality, more than 100 students at McDaniel College gathered in the Baker Memorial Hall on Wednesday night to discuss the death of Freddie Gray, minority communities' relationship with the police and the politics of nonviolent protest.
The event, Believe: Bigger Than Baltimore, was spearheaded by students on campus who wished to have a platform to discuss these issues. After a performance of "Amazing Grace' by students Malcolm Jones and Briahna Harris, McDaniel professors and students took the stage to give short speeches on a variety of aspects of the protests in Baltimore.
Pam Zappardino, co-director of the Zepp Center for Nonviolence and Peace Education, spoke about the history of nonviolent protest and the ways it is often misunderstood. Zappardino said nonviolent protest doesn't simply mean turning the other cheek or walking peacefully down a road before dispersing.
She described protest as seeking change through disruption of the status quo and demanding justice. She also quoted Martin Luther King, Jr's 1968 speech in which he describes riots as the language of the unheard.
"And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years," Zappardino said, quoting King. "It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity."
Senior Jelae McNeil, of Philadelphia, who spoke immediately after Zappardino, said it shouldn't take a death to be publicized for the campus to come together to discuss issues of racism and injustice.
"If you want to step up, it starts from the top. It starts with our president. Then it goes from our president to our faculty and staff. And from there it goes down to the students and across the whole campus," McNeil said. "If we can't fix McDaniel, then we can't fix other places."
The final student to speak was Elijah Jones, a sophomore from Baltimore. Jones said when he watches the news and sees teenagers in the streets, he's reminded of himself.
"If I was 15 again, that would be me. And I say that because I was lost. I feel like everybody at that age is lost," Jones said. "You feel like you're suffocating. You feel like you're slowly but surely dying. So when I see images of Freddie Gray and I see video, I realize that I am Freddie Gray. We went to the same schools and lived in the same neighborhoods. What's the difference between him and I?"
Freshman Joseph Ferguson said he was born and raised in Baltimore, and wanted to attend the event to hear other peoples' perspectives on what was going on in his hometown. He said over the past few days, he's relied mainly on social media to keep him up to date with the news.
Attendee Melanie Ojwang, a junior from Columbia, said the discussions about Baltimore have been taking place across campus over the past week.
"That's why I think an event like this is so important. It provides people a space to talk about these things safely and comfortably, and get their feelings out in a positive manner."
At the end of the evening, organizers held a candle lighting and a moment of silence and remembrance for the victims of police brutality. On their way out, students were invited to write messages on banners labeled "Solidarity," "Heal" and "Come Together," which are planned to be hung in the hall of the Decker College Center.