In honor of Michael Brown's funeral Monday, the Black Student Alliance hosted a candlelight vigil and open session for the community to express themselves through poetry and spoken word, among other mediums.
In addition to the nighttime event, BSA encouraged people to wear black Monday in memory of Brown, promoting the idea on social media with #WearBlackForBrown. Other colleges and community organizations across the nation hosted similar events.
“It was an invitation to everyone within the Duke community,” BSA President Jamal Edwards, a junior, said of the event. “We wanted to bring together students in all spaces, because you don’t have to be black to be passionate about this issue.”
When the BSA executive board first convened after summer break, many members noted that they were strongly affected by Brown's death and the ensuing police action in Ferguson, Mo., Edwards noted in the evening's opening remarks.
“We are very overwhelmed and just overjoyed by the amount of people that came out tonight,” Edwards said. “We knew that there are a lot of students who came back from summer break with a lot on their mind regarding the situation in Ferguson, we wanted to get people in open platforms to express that.”
Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson three weeks ago. The incident put Ferguson in the national spotlight—with thousands of protestors and nationwide conversations on police brutality and racial profiling.
The vigil included a candle lighting by audience members, designed to encourage reflection on historical incidents of police violence, particularly against black males.
Audience members were then invited to sign up to share their thoughts and feelings, in any medium of their choosing, for the "Speak Your Peace" portion of the night.
Freshman Taylor Jones said she appreciated the evening's opportunity for self-expression.
“I found it so meaningful,” Jones said. “So many times, we are not encouraged to speak out about things, we are not encouraged to tell people how we feel. We are too radical, we are deemed too black. But here, in so many different forms of poetry, songs and just free speech, it makes me proud to be black, it makes me proud to be a Duke student, and it makes proud knowing that there are so many people going down the road addressing problems like [Ferguson].”
Edwards said that he hoped this event will bring the Duke community together, emphasizing the power of the arts and self-expression in uniting people.
“I think community is one of the best ways to heal and get out collective ideas,” Edwards said. “We value the arts, we value voices and expressions and just human narratives, and we thought the best way to really bring this issue to the forefront for the Duke community is to have an event like this where people can openly say what’s on their mind.”
Chandra Guinn, director of the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, closed out the ceremony. She encouraged students to challenge people in the community with opposite views and have the strength to stand up for themselves.
“I think events that demonstrate to others who have varying perspectives really help to show the heart of our students,” Guinn said.