​Black Lives Matter Activists Form Protests

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer

Students and community organizers recently joined a Black Lives Matter (BLM) effort, conducting silent protests at Sewanee’s home football games by kneeling during the National Anthem.
Activists plan a similar protest at the Homecoming Game on Nov. 5, and supporters are asked to arrive by 11:40 a.m., dressed in black with any signs they may want to bring.
Brandon Iracks-Edelin, a Sewanee junior and past president of the student-led African American Alliance, encourages people to ask protesters questions about Black Lives Matter and race equality.
“I would like to see attention brought to the issue,” he said. “We’re not trying to disrespect anybody; in fact, we want to make conversation. If it makes some people uncomfortable, just imagine when a situation makes you uncomfortable every day. Imagine waking up uncomfortable every day because of worrying how others perceive you based on the color of your skin.”
Iracks-Edelin has participated in several Black Lives Matter related events in Sewanee, as well as participating in a BLM march with his former high school in Washington, D.C.
“We really want to spark conversations,” he said. “It’s a learning opportunity for both groups. We’re all human, we all make mistakes. We should be able to learn and grow with each other instead of forming rash judgments.”
In addition to African American Alliance (AAA) members, others participating in the protests include people from the Cumberland Center for Justice and Peace (CCJP), the School of Theology and University faculty.
Chandler Davenport, a Sewanee sophomore and community service chair of the Alliance, said the protests started after two Sewanee football players, Kirk Murphy and Ronald Hayes, wore Black Lives Matter related messages during games.
In the first Black Lives Matter protest during the game against Rhodes College, about 25 people participated; at the next home game that number was 15, Davenport said, noting that an earlier start time may have affected participation.
“The Sewanee community has been very supportive thus far. We have been listening for any possible resistance and checking social media but nothing has surfaced so far,” she said.
Charles Whitmer, director of CCJP, has participated in making signs and in the silent protests at football games.
“One thing that’s really struck me about Sewanee and the University broadly, is that we say everyone is welcome here. The longer I’m here the more I’m seeing not everyone is welcome. One of the things we need to be asking is, ‘Do people feel welcome?’”
Whitmer said he is encouraged that student voices of color seem to be elevated, especially in the past year with the University hosting speakers of color and cultural opportunities.
In addition to protests, activists took “solidarity photos” on the Quad for personal and organizational social media accounts, Davenport noted.
Elizabeth Skomp, Sewanee’s associate dean for faculty development and inclusion, said she is encouraged by the Black Lives Matter effort.
“For my part, I am always glad to see students engaging broadly and deeply with issues of contemporary concern,” Skomp said.
The AAA is hosting a showing of the new documentary “13th” on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 5 p.m. in the Mary Sue Cushman room of the Bairnwick Women’s Center, with everyone welcome. The Alliance meets the first and third Sunday of the month from 5 to 6 p.m. in the ABC Rooms in McClurg.
“Yes, AAA is a student-run organization, but the issues we are discussing affect our entire community,” Davenport said.
For more information, visit the “Sewanee African American Alliance: Sewanaaa” on Facebook and “Sewanaaa” on Instagram. University-related efforts for inclusion and diversity can be found at provost.sewanee.edu/diversity-inclusion-and-cohesion.