Provo residents took to the streets June 13 to promote anti-racist community change.
Cheers of “No justice; no peace” and “Black lives matter” erupted from the protesters as they marched along University Avenue from Smith’s to the Historic Utah County Courthouse. The rally at the courthouse, co-organized by Women’s March Provo and Project Blindspot, featured black speakers from the community.
BYU graduate Tinesha Zandamela opened the rally by citing Provo City’s motto: “Welcome home.”
“The painful reality is that not everyone feels welcome here,” she said. “We cannot genuinely welcome anyone home until we welcome everyone home.”
Many of the subsequent speakers addressed specific reasons why black people might not feel welcome in Provo or at BYU.
BYU advertising student and Project Blindspot co-creator Kofi Aidoo shared that less than 1% of BYU students are black, and almost half of black students at BYU don’t finish their education.
What Zandamela called a “culture of racism” might be responsible for the low completion rate. She reported that many black students experience racist comments from peers and professors and unjust treatment from the Honor Code Office.
“BYU cannot proclaim, ‘Enter to learn and go forth to serve’ until it facilitates true learning,” she said, calling for required class and training on cultural competency. “It cannot propel students to go forth and serve until it prepares students to serve people who think and look differently than they are.”
Outgoing BYU Black Student Union president Deborah Alexis encouraged protesters to commit to act and speak up when they hear others propagating racist ideas. She condemned the passive allowance of injustice as an act of racism.
“It’s in the quotidian act of the mediocre man and woman who fills out the paperwork, who gives it a platform, who feeds the man, who supports the system,” she said. “This type of behavior assists to a great evil.”
BYU sociology professor Ryan Gabriel also spoke to the complacency of white people. White allies, he said, need to be loving, humble and willing to put in the work to become educated.
“Speaking to you, my white sisters and brothers, I extend a sincere and loving invitation for you to join us for the long haul,” he said. “I plead with you to get involved and stay involved.”
Hundreds of Provo residents attended the event, including a many families with young children.