By Laurynn Davey, Assistant Editor
Photos taken by the McKendree University Communication and Marketing Office
On Thursday Sept. 17, members of the McKendree community gathered together on the front lawn for a peaceful rally and marched in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Student body president, Shelby Benn, began the rally with a few opening remarks. Devon Myles, a player on the McKendree University football team, then led the Black Lives Matter march through campus. Students followed Devon to the fountain then marched down College Road before making their way back to the front lawn. Families from the town of Lebanon joined with McKendree’s faculty and students to participate in the march for justice and inclusion.
Organized by Shelby Benn, Devon Myles, Steven Towns, and with the support of their teammates, the movement pushed for a change on five main goals. The first was to encourage young voters and ask that students and faculty have the day off on Nov. 3 for the presidential election. The second was to start free book waivers for low income students. Third was mandatory sensitivity training for the McKendree faculty and Staff, and fourth was to add more minority sub board trustees. The last goal was to establish Juneteenth as a holiday.
One of the most common misconceptions about voting when it comes to young adults is the belief that their votes don’t count. I talked with Shelby Benn, leader of the movement and current chair of McKendree’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, about how to encourage young voters.
“Their [students] vote has an impact on society. Your vote directly affects power,” said Benn. “Even if you feel your vote ‘doesn’t count’ towards the big election, it will most definitely count towards the smaller ones. This is most people’s first election. Everybody remembers their first kiss, and now we want everyone to remember their first election while they’re still in college.”
Dr. Ann Collins, political science professor at McKendree University, ran a voting table towards the beginning of the rally to help students register to vote. As one of the speakers, she spoke about the importance of voting and how African Americans went through the process of having to protest to vote.
Following the march around campus, Devon Myles asked supporters to take a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd, who was tragically killed by Minneapolis police on May 25, when former officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for that same amount of time. His death triggered worldwide protests against police brutality, racism, and lack of police training.
During this time, our community had the opportunity to reflect on the injustices of our country. I thought of my best friend and her family, and how distraught they were after the killings of both George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. I recalled her frustration when she, a black woman, tried her best to explain to me her experience growing up in a southern town, a town filled with a racist history. I thought, “What can I do? How can I change this?”
Dr. Lauren Thompson, history professor on the McKendree campus, used the time in her speech to inform our community about racism and the unjust treatment of black people throughout United States history. She explained that while African Americans have been freed from slavery for over 100 years, they were enslaved for over 400; insinuating that there is still a lot of progress to be made if we want a true end to racism.
As a white woman herself, she recognized the privilege of her skin color, and spoke directly to white supporters about the three things we need to accomplish before calling ourselves allies of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The first was that white people need to listen, and not speak over black people. Shelby commented that “for people who are at the journey of wanting to do more, read books and stories about the movement. Be more understanding, actually listen. Practice your understanding in your daily life when being anti-racist. Once you finish all that, you become a true ally.”
Her second point was that “Silence is Violence.” It is important to speak up and engage in tough conversations. It’s also necessary to call people out when they’re being offensive. She later recalled a quote that read, “I’d rather offend my white friends than bury my black friends.”
The third was that white people can’t tell black people how to feel, nor can they tell them what to do. As a white person myself, I will never understand what it’s like to be discriminated against due to the color of my skin. We cannot say things such as “if I were you” and “I would’ve done this,” because we don’t experience the same things.
I asked Shelby what he thought about the turn out for the peaceful rally.
“We expected a big crowd because we knew we had the only Black Lives Matter rally in Lebanon,” Benn said. “We had the full support of the administration.”
He felt the support from his teammates, fellow classmates, and the McKendree community as a whole.
So, what’s next for McKendree? How can we continue to show our support for the black community? I asked Shelby how to move forward and continue taking the steps towards a positive change in our society, to which he responded: “by constantly giving awareness and making sure people know that you can impact your communities, small circles, and towns.”
“I want that to be totally transparent,” he said, “you can improve your town.”
Many people come from places where the Black Lives Matter movement is often misunderstood to be destructive, most likely due to the media’s violent influence. Shelby felt Thursday’s rally impacted the community greatly, because not only are they seeing the movement as a non-violent protest, but they are also understanding more about its purpose and the experiences of people of color.
“Understanding that – my views are my own personal beliefs,” said Benn. “The movement can mean different things for others, but this is what I want to see. I challenge everyone to be as inclusive as possible and want to improve our society so we can have these conversations to improve as individuals.”
To continue their fight for change, Shelby, Devon, and Steven are currently planning community service projects. In addition, they are hoping to make some trips to different schools about registering to vote.
To finish our conversation, Shelby expressed his challenge for McKendree to be more inclusive and understanding; they should be willing to understand the different backgrounds of their students.
There is a common quote I see around social media, also mentioned at Thursdays rally, and it reads:
“I understand that I will never understand. However, I stand with you.”
I stand with the black community and support what they are fighting for, and I will continue to educate myself and reach towards a positive change. I ask my fellow white people to do the same and understand the impact this movement will have on society. We need to stand together and be on the right side of history. Vote, listen, and don’t be afraid to speak up!