Written by Regina Sanders. Media by Quinten Brown.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
Several students at Greenville College embraced Maya Angelou’s statement wholeheartedly. Gabbie Hill and Katie Westbrook are two examples of refusing to be reduced by surrounding events. Hill and Westbrook worked together to organize a memorial in Claussen Plaza that’s dedicated to fallen black lives.
Armed with passion and conviction, Hill and Westbrook sparked conversation. Hill felt motivated to create the memorial after conversations with administration who, she felt, didn’t understand the importance of affirming that Black Lives Matter. Westbrook was motivated to create this memorial after seeing hurt, injustice, and pain. The goal is to raise awareness and help students and staff see past political ideology to understand that people have lost their lives. This memorial is also meant show that Black Lives Matter isn’t about black superiority, but about the fact that people are dying.
Students and faculty have been stopping by the plaza to write scripture, kind words, and inspirational lyrics in chalk on the sidewalk. Photos of several black Americans who lost their lives are put on display and surrounded by flowers, stuffed animals, and pinwheels. Prayer vigils have also occurred.
While there’s been a positive reaction to the memorial, several volunteers felt the need to watch over the space. Sometime between Feb. 15 and 16, Hill visited the memorial and found several photos and candles taken. Campus Safety took parts of the memorial down and left only the stones that held down posters.
Michael Lennix, the Director of Campus Safety and Security, expressed regret over the situation:
“It was a miscommunication. The message [about the memorial] wasn’t relayed to the midnight officer. It [also] wasn’t realized that students were the ones who created the memorial.”
By the afternoon of Feb. 16, the memorial was put back together. When asked if the memorial would continue, organizers expressed, “It will be maintained as long as it is allowed.” Even if the memorial comes to an end, conversation will remain. Coordinator of residence education, Naomi Brown, commented that it was sobering to see students wonder if there would be a memorial dedicated to them or their family and friends one day. Resident chaplain, Reiko Rivera, expressed disappointment in seeing the laughter of some students when they encountered the memorial. She would not, however, let that dampen her spirit and took the amount of people willing to stop and ask questions to heart.
This memorial seems to be a step in the right direction. Instructor of communication and media studies, Dr. Matt Bernico, sees this memorial as an outlet to acknowledge and approach the issue of violence in our country:
“Police violence, along with poverty, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia all contribute to the overarching violence of everyday life for marginalized people. With movements like this, hopefully more people will understand what it is like to be the overlooked person in this country.”
America is not perfect. This memorial has been a stepping stone in a much-needed conversation about race, religion, sexuality, and gender. It must be understood that we will not truly be a nation for the people until we are a nation for the people.
Let this statement echo in your mind and on your lips: You matter and your life matters.