During the week of March 31, CommonLYNX, Lesley Speaks Out, and Students for Social Justice hosted an events series surrounding the Black Lives Matter campaign. This campaign began as a response to the ongoing police brutality in the United States against black individuals. Though there have been an extreme number of cases directly related to this topic of police brutality, this series focused specifically on the cases of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY and Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. In addition, the goal of these events was to educate and evaluate these institutions that criminalize and dehumanize minority communities.
Towards the end of the fall semester, students on campus gathered together in alliance to discuss the injustices taking place and to address the lack of response from the Lesley University administration. Students held a “die in” for Michael Brown following the non-guilty decision in the trial against his shooter and Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. At the Board of Trustees quarterly meeting in December, students held a silent protest by lining the room in Alumni Hall and holding signs relating to the events, asking for a university response to these events.
A few days after, the Office of the Provost released a statement related to the events saying, “Lesley University Students for Social Justice have been joined by many of their peers and some faculty in raising their voices in support of social justice and against miscarriages of justice. Just as slavery was the moral issue of the mid-1800’s and lynching and women suffrage were the legal justice issues o the 1920’s and 1930’s police brutality, disproportionate incarceration, and excessive use of force against Black and brown boys has become one of the most important social and legal issues of the first two decades of the 21st century. As an institution that is proud of being a strong proponent of social justice, Lesley has an opportunity to become a model for how institutions of higher education address some of the most challenging issues of the day.”
The event series during the week of March 31st was formally titled “Lesley Speaks Out: The Black Lives Matter Series.” Events in this series included an open dialogue about police brutality and the Black Lives Matter protests, screenings of the Oscar nominated film Selma, and a panel about police brutality with members from the Lesley community, current police officers and local advocates. This series was designed to “provide a safe space for people to engage in dialogue and discuss actions (individual, local, and national levels) that must be taken to protect black and brown individuals.”
The film Selma recounted the campaign of Martin Luther King, Jr. to secure equal voting rights for African Americans. This film specifically looked at his march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. During this time, racism in the South was commonplace and although slavery was outlawed, the society did not reflect it. Black men and women in the South were legally given the right to vote but often did not get to practice that right due to many restrictive laws, known as the Jim Crow laws. These were state and local laws that worked to disenfranchise African Americans in the South during the period of Reconstruction; these laws included a literacy test, the grandfather clause, property tests and poll taxes, to name a few. Support for the march from Selma to Montgomery grew greatly and involved many people, both black and white, who sought to remove the restrictions on voting rights for African Americans. This powerful film showed only a small battle in the large war that African Americans had to face in order to gain their voting rights in these Southern states where they were unfairly discriminated against.
The Black Lives Matter series screened this film four times throughout the week. Selma powerfully addressed issues of racism and the treatment of black Americans during the 1960s. More than 25 years later, racism is still commonplace in some parts of the United States and some groups of people are specifically targeted simply because of the color of their skin. This events series encouraged members of the Lesley Community to address mistreatment and injustice toward those who are being mistreated in society. In order to do so, members of the community must understand the mistreatment these groups faced in the past and decide to actively work against these injustices that have been occurring too frequently in the past few years.