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Be the Change: UNF hosts virtual candlelight vigil for racial justice

Zach Yearwood, News Editor

Hundreds of members of the UNF community came together online Wednesday night to show solidarity with the black community and to honor the lives of those lost to racially motivated police brutality.

Over a dozen speakers including students, faculty, community leaders and UNF’s president David Szymanski went live together on the school’s Facebook page via Zoom to “honor, mourn and advocate for the unjust deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the many others we have lost,” said Kalilah Jamall.

Following Jamall’s opening remarks and a rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready’ sung by Angela Lee, the president of UNF’s Black Student Union (BSU), Jennell Berry, spoke.

“This fight which began before the inception of the United States must end with our generation,” Berry said. “We must rebuke the fear of untimely death because of our skin color.”

Florida representative and Jacksonville native Tracie Davis joined the vigil to offer some remarks.

“We are at the height of dismantling a destructive system and rebuilding one that works for everyone. I urge you, keep going. When it all seems to be falling apart around you, that means it’s working. Your job is to push harder,” Davis said.

Three candles were lit throughout the 68-minute vigil. The first one honored George Floyd.

Floyd’s death outraged the world. For many, it was the first time seeing the reality that people of color in the United States have been living with for generations. 

George Floyd, 46, never got to meet his three-year-old granddaughter.

The video of Floyd’s murder also shed light on some of the issues plaguing police departments throughout the country. 

The second candle was for Breonna Taylor, who would have turned 27 last week. Her friends were reportedly planning her birthday party before she died.

On March 13, three plainclothes Louisville Metro Police Department officers forcibly entered her apartment on a “no-knock” search warrant as part of an investigation of two men they believed were selling drugs.

A shooting ensued between the three officers and Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend who lived with her. It ended with one fatality: Breonna Taylor.

The two suspects the officers were investigating were already in custody at the time of the incident. The police officers involved have not yet been charged criminally.

The third candle was lit in honor of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man who was out on a jog in a neighborhood in Glynn County, Georgia when he was shot and killed in broad daylight.

The videos of both George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery have been likened to modern-day lynchings. 

After all three candles were lit, Matt Hartley, associate director of the Interfaith Center, offered a moment of reflection and a reminder to the audience.

“Your breath has absolute worth,” Hartley said. “In religious traditions, we might say that your breath is sacred.”

This message was followed by a moment of silence lasting eight minutes and 46 seconds: the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee against George Floyd’s neck.

526 seconds may not seem like a long time. For George Floyd, it must have felt like an eternity.

The uncomfortable moment of silent reflection allowed the audience to understand just how long George Floyd had the life squeezed out of him, as he said multiple times that he could not breathe. 

Other speakers throughout the night included Student Government president, Ally Schneider, who voiced her and Student Government’s commitment to “fighting and advocating for black students at UNF” and Brandon Jacobs, president of the school’s Black Alumni Association.

 “We as a society deserve better from those who are sworn in oath to protect and serve us,” Jacobs said.

 President Szymanski gave the vigil’s closing remarks.

 As a part of the school’s commitment to abolishing racism, Szymanski announced that anti-racism education will be mandatory for all incoming students and faculty.

The school’s president also announced the creation of a new position within the school: Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion. Whitney Meyer, director of the Community Alliance for Student Success (CASS), will fill the school’s newest position.

“It’s not just about dialogue, it’s about taking action steps,” Szymanski said. “So the action steps we’re talking about today are the first two steps that we’re taking but there are many more steps that we will take as we learn more.”


For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].

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    Abel FelicidadJun 11, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    Google the Tony Timpa video right now, if you can read this. The only part of this ‘crisis’ that has anything to do with skin-color prejudice is the lack of mass hysteria due to the fact that Tony was White, George was Black. Black folks, if you can see that your ‘friends’ and the people influencing them are the perpetrators of this prejudice, don’t be afraid to speak out against it. When you hear them say, “When it all seems to be falling apart around you, that means it’s working,” know that no good will come from the violence and destruction they want to dish out. Mr. Szymanski, please don’t believe that these people won’t trash the University like they did with Missou and Evergreen!