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College hosts community gathering on police violence against Americans of color

Members of the Colby community gathered together on Miller Lawn on Monday, April 26 at 12:15 p.m. to stand in solidarity and commemorate the lives lost in recent days to police violence. This gathering has affirmed the community’s commitment to supporting justice in the world.

Students, faculty, and staff listened in the brisk wind to Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life Kate Smanik give an introduction to the event’s speakers.

Smanik began by acknowledging that the community has had to gather too many times in the past few days as a result of these all-too-common tragedies. She then read out a list of the names of victims such as Ma’Khia Bryant, Anthony J. Thompson Jr., and others who have been killed by police officers.

“Each name is another family left broken-hearted. It is right to grieve. It is right to rage. It is right to demand justice,” Smanik said.

She also honored the indigenous Wabanaki people and noted that the land Colby presides over today was once their land before passing the microphone over to Misa Beltran-Guzman `22.

Beltran-Guzman spoke to the audience about the secret weight some members of the Colby community carry. In his case, Beltran-Guzman shared that his father was deported when he was just a newborn, leaving his mother to raise him alone in a foreign country. He also read the poem America by Hareth Andrade-Alaya, drawing parallels from the poem to his own life and dedicating it to his father who was deported again in February of this year.

Professor of Religious Studies Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh spoke next, reciting from Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib.

She said to the crowd that there is infinite light in the universe and each of us are equally important. Singh also emphasized that East Asians and Sikhs are experiencing racially motivated violence  right now and that all these lives are precious and part of the same infinite light.

Javon Williams `23 said that while he rejoiced that everyone was celebrating the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial, the police officer who murdered George Floyd in 2020, everyone was celebrating an outcome that shouldn’t have come to be in the first place.

When people ask him why he cares so much, Williams explains that when you are repeatedly shown media images of people that look like you being killed it is impossible not to make the connection to yourself. He ended with a quote from James Balwin: “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. ”

Next to speak was Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tayo Clyburn. Clyburn gave an emotional recollection from his childhood of his mother telling him “don’t let those white kids get you killed.”

Clyburn said that, at the time, he didn’t really understand what his mother meant, but he came to realize that he and his brother didn’t have the same freedom to be young and foolish as their white peers, that they would not be treated the same– their actions were scrutinized and judged, and he should always remember that because the stakes were so high.

In an interview with The Colby Echo, Clyburn said his career path was driven by his childhood growing up on racially diverse military bases where his father served in the army. Once his father retired, his family moved to a predominantly white neighborhood where Clyburn said he began understanding that his education took place both inside and outside of  the classroom. This experience shaped his perspective about educational spaces.

“There’s been so much pain in targeted ways across so many communities,” Clyburn said when asked why the College felt it was necessary to hold another community gathering after last week’s event following the Chauvin trial. “It is very important for us to create space to process all of it and with the Derek Chauvin trial we could not anticipate when we would need to have that. We knew we had to do something to process it as a community. To create space as many times as we need to.”

One of the attendees of the Community Gathering was Bray Hunter `24. Hunter said she was inspired to come not only to support the greater national movement, but to show support to her fellow students and the Colby community.

“I felt by coming to the community gathering, I was able to actively engage and learn about the experiences which may be different than my own,” Hunter said.

“It was very impactful to see individuals sharing very personal experiences, thoughts and emotions,” Hunter continued. “Through these lived experiences and personal accounts, the influence of the national events and tragedies becomes visible in every individual.”

When discussing what steps Colby has taken to work towards equality on its campus, Clyburn said the College joined the Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance (LACRELA) earlier this year. He is also working with Professor Sonja Thomas (WGSS) and Professor David Strohl (Anthropology) to add caste to Colby’s non-discrimination policy.

~ Fiona Huo ‘23

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