WASHINGTON – In a burst of activity not seen since the 1960s, Howard University student activists are making a mark on history. From Peoria,Illinois to Denver, Colorado to Honolulu, Hawaii, students are rallying, marching, and organizing as part of the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter social movements.
“A lot of Howard students have been attending and even leading different protests across the country,” said Rachel Howell, a 21 year-old political science and philosophy senior from Alpharetta, Ga., and incoming president of the Howard University Student Association. “A lot of times of you come to an HBCU to learn about the history that has been hidden from you. Now, before you are even able to move into your dorm, students are becoming a part of history. A lot of growth is happening.”
Today, we profile several Howard University student activists from around the nation who decided to get involved in or create social justice movements in their hometowns.
Kennedi Roberts, 18 years old, Minneapolis, Minnesota / Incoming Freshman, Psychology
Sparks started for the nationwide and then global uprising on May 22, with the death of 46-year-old George Floyd.
“The first day that everything broke out with George Floyd, I actually went to the protest with my parents,” said Roberts, who will study psychology. “It was a peaceful protest, a march from 38th and Chicago, where he was murdered, to the police precinct. We left early because that was the first night that rioting broke out.”
Late that night Roberts held a Facetime call with other activist friends from DeLaSalle High School, including incoming Howard freshmen Imelda Mongo, Weslyn Harmon, Jacoby Andrews, Rahma Abdullahi, and Ayo Olagbaju.
“We thought it would be really powerful to do a sit-in,” Roberts said. “That night we started planning around what we wanted to do. We wanted to do a sit in as a tribute to sit-in’s in the 1960s because we are still seeing this same treatment of Black bodies back that we saw then.”
The sit-in was held that following Tuesday at the state capital.
“We honestly did not expect it to blow up as it did,” she said. “We had 3,000 to 5,000 people attend.”
Roberts said the first time she noticed what police brutality was began with Trayvon Martin.
“I was 10 years old and now it’s eight years later,” Roberts said. “Especially for the youth, this is a tipping point now. We are coming into our adulthood after all these of years of seeing police brutality and hate crimes against black and brown bodies. It’s time to speak up and now we have the power to speak up. I think our class will be a class of change, I really do.”
Chanel Sherrod, 24 years old, Washington, D.C. / Third-Year, Howard University School of Law
“I’m in DC and I’ve been protesting – near the National Mall, and also with other area law students from area law schools where we marched from the capitol to the White House,” Sherrod said.
Sherrod said she began attending rallies as undergraduate because a Black man was shot by the police waiting for his son to get off the school bus a mile from her campus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“That was my first experience, but I have always been part of the movement,” Sherrod said. “Even though this is not my first time around with this, it saddens me that we are doing it again. But I can tell this time is different. I don’t have to justify why Black Lives Matter isn’t something that’s racist or something that’s against being American.”
Sherrod said after prevous protests she participated in, she would return to campus where there would be arguments with other students. This time, officials at her summer internship are having discussions and donating money to movements.
“They are talking to everybody now about dismantling white privilege and more broadly. It’s incredible to me because workplaces are not known to be Black-friendly,” Sherrod said. “I feel like America is finally waking up people are finally opening their eyes. The first step to combatting racism is realizing that it’s there.”
Peter Lubembela, 21years old, Denver, Colorado / Senior, Political Science
“Black Denver is really active now,” Lubembela said. “There have been rallies every day and protests.You had the police out there tear gassing people. Shooting people with rubber bullets. One of my mentors got hit with something and fractured her jaw.”
Lubembela was born in a refugee camp in Tanzania and moved to Denver when he was seven. His parents ran away from the Democratic Republic of Congo to escape a civil war. This summer he is working at the Upward Bound program at Colorado State University. Amid the protests, he organized an artistic event to create a healing space with 22 performers, including spoken word artists, singers, actors, rappers. The event drew a crowd of 1,000 people.
“There’s so much trauma right now in the Black community where we see cases like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Black people are fighting so hard to address a lot of the injustices in our community, education system, and the justice system and so I wanted to create a space where people could come together.”
He continued, “Every now and then it is important to take a break from our fight so we can heal ourselves so we can continue to fight.”
The following week, Lubembela led a youth rally and helped to organize another rally on July 4 under 10for10, an organization he started as a Howard University student.
“You can say my activism started at Howard,” said Lubembela who is also president of the Omega Psi Phi chapter on campus. “In the summer of 2019, I was doing a lot of community service work at the soup kitchen in Columbia Heights. I realized a lot of people I was serving were older people of color. I strongly believe it’s our responsibility as Howard men to bridge the gap between Howard University and our community.”
“You can say my activism started out Howard,” said Lubembela who is also president of the Omega Psi Phi chapter on campus. “In the summer of 2019, I was doing a lot of community service work at the soup kitchen in Columbia Heights. I realized a lot of people I was serving were older people of color. I realized it was our responsibility as Howard men to bridge the gap between Howard University and our community.”
*Credit for Lubembela photo: Jake Henderson.
Domonique Dille, 23 years old, Washington, D.C. / Third year, Howard University School of Law
“Our generation’s movement started with Trayvon Martin and the beginning of Black Lives Matter movement,” Dille said. “With technology we’re able to see it and show white people this is what’s going on and now we have more white allies. They are learning about it, and they want to do something about it now. When it is clear as day as it was with George Floyd, there is no denying it, there’s no justifying it.”
Dille has attended demonstrations including a recent march from the capital building to the White House organized by the Student Bar Association and the Black Law Student Association at Howard University School of Law. Dille also attended legal observer and bail support training with DC Black Lives Matter.
She explained the position of the legal observer at protests. Instead of participating, legal observers watch the cops, record them or document any use of force, or any instances where individual’s civil rights are being violated. An observer also tries to get identification information for those who do get arrested to ensure they get bail support.
Dille said she experienced racism in Georgia and eventually she decided to study criminal law to confront it. She is currently interning at the Fairfax Public Defender office.
“I’ve always wanted to go into criminal law because I saw how corrupt the system is,” Dille said. “It is minority populations facing the brunt of the injustice of the criminal system and the injustice of America.. The criminal justice system is where everything comes together.”
*Dille is in the front row, second activist on left.
Mariah Cooley, 18 years old, Peoria, Illinois / Sophomore, Political Science
“I am a founding member of a new organization called Young Revolution. We held a rally on June 7 about Peoria victims of police brutality and we had over a thousand people join. It was the biggest protest in Peoria, Illinois history. And we also had a rally as well. Our very first group protest was on May 30 about George Floyd.”
Cooley and other demonstrators advocated for the “Eight Can’t Wait Policy” – eight policies meant to stop police brutality and reform policing.
“We were successful. Our police department decided to implement all eight of these policies because of how much recognition we were getting.”
Cooley also helped organize a silent march in honor of one of the first civil rights protests in 1917 called the Negro Silent Protest parade. Cooley said these marches protested lynchings in New York City and were led by drummers.
“This is knowledge that I had when we were thinking about ideas,” Cooley said. “I thought it would be a really good way to honor civil rights activists who came before us. I wanted to shed light that more than 100 years later we are still fighting against lynching and discrimination.”
At Howard University, Cooely is co-founder and legislative director for the March for Our Lives chapter that she is trying to get started. The organization is a student-led demonstration group in support of legislation to prevent gun violence.
“As a political science major with the courses I’ve been taking, I’ve learned a lot about Black history and Black leaders and the acts they took to seek change. With our Howard and HBCU educations, we are equipped with the knowledge to be a Civil Rights activists and to set our political future.”
David Edgerton III, 20 years old, St. Paul, Minnesota / Senior, political science and legal communications
“I spoke on the steps of the Minnesota state capital building,” Edgerton said. “It was part of the ‘Sit to Breathe’ movement here on June 2. It was a crowd of over 15,000 people. It was multi- generational. So many ethnicities.”
Edgerton’s speech was on how to move forward together as a community and he listed actual action items.
“I brought up voting, taking part in the census, restructuring every city and state-wide budget, and decreasing the funding for police while increasing the funding in community, economic development, and education, and public health.
“Where George Floyd was killed is 20 minutes away from where I went to school went to school. The shooting of Philando Castile all went down 10 minutes from where I am. It’s very real here and very present where I am. I see boarded up buildings everywhere I go. Boarded up with wood and graffiti and art showing support for the movement. Black businesses are thriving. I see a community really looking at themselves in the mirror.”
Edgerton said Minnesotans pride themselves on being a very nice community. He said a majority of his white counterparts believe there is no race issue.
“They believe we’ve reached a post-racial society because of our blended communities and because of how integrated our communities are for the most part – and maybe our collective love for Prince. He is our superstar and he is a Black man.”
But, he said the killing of Castile and George Floyd shocked people.
“People say there must be bad apples,” Edgerton said. “However, we constantly rank in the bottom five in the nation when it comes to achievement disparities in terms of education, health care and economic opportunity.”
Edgerton also helped organize a multi-day study group protest at an area high school and graduate student-led peaceful protest in three suburban communities in Minnesota: Woodberry, Eagan, and Brooklyn Park.
“I credit Howard with teaching me how to be unapologetically black and unapologetically me. The school has prepared me to be the advocate that I am today – to seek the truth and serve my community,” said Edgerton.
He continued, “One thing I learned about my generation is that we truly are the creators of our own destiny. Historically, it has been students who have led movements throughout the world that have created great social change. Right now it is crucial that the world hear our voices. We have grown up in an environment where we have seen so much turmoil, so much hurt, and so much pain that we’ve had enough.”
Kylah Hughley, 20 years old, Honolulu, Hawaii / Junior, Psychology
“We have had a few marches, (June 6) we had one of the biggest marches in Hawaii history and it completely on centered Black folks, Black trans people, and Black women. That was a pinnacle point for the movement here– 10,000 people attended. We have had other marches, and most recently we did a Black Women’s March on June 16.”
Hughley has had to confront the widespread idea that racism doesn’t exist in Hawaii because the community is so diverse. She has been working with grassroots organizations to expose and create conversations around anti-Black rhetoric and racism in the criminal justice and educational systems.
“I talked to a friend and we said we were going to organize,” Hughley said. “Of course, coming from Howard, it’s the Bison spirit to make change and be a part of change. It is deeply embedded in me and it’s really important to me.“
Hughley said the Honolulu police department doesn’t have any legislation for transparency around police misconduct.
“Unless an officer is completely fired you won’t hear any of their misconduct,” Hughley said. “If they are suspended, they are still be allowed to be on the force. That is one of the things we are working toward changing. With upcoming elections, we are working to get people elected who support transparency in every facet of Hawaii’s government.”
She continued, “Hawaii is illegally occupied by the United States but still functions as a normal state. As such, racism and white supremacy exist here. We try to get people to understand that although there are no videos of people being murdered in the streets, the Honolulu police department, other state entities, and individuals are definitely plagued in the same way that the continental U.S. are by anti-blackness and white supremacy.”
About Howard University
Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 13 schools and colleges. Students pursue studies in more than 120 areas leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced one Schwarzman Scholar, three Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 11 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African-American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu.
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