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Marching for Black lives: CMU students participate in city-spanning protest

Protesters march down South Mission Street in Mount Pleasant Michigan on Sept. 10, 2020. This was part of the Central Michigan University student-led Legalize Being Black: Our Lives Matter Too protest.

Ashton Hight said he wanted to use his voice as a Black man to speak out during a time of crisis.

Tamia Willis, a Detriot freshman, said she wants to bring awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Holland senior Alyssa Leal said she wants to show representation for the Afro-Latinx community on campus.

Ziere Sasnett, a Bloomfield Hills junior, wanted to dismantle white supremacy.

These were a handful of reasons students attended the “Legalize Being Black: Our Lives Matter Too" march the evening of Sept.10.

For Detroit senior and organizer Darian Bird, the march was about creating a better world for his son by inspiring change on the local level. 

“This starts locally, this starts with our community," Bird said. "I’m hoping this raises some awareness and people understand racism shouldn’t be prevalent, it shouldn’t be around especially in a town that is home to a diverse amount of people with Central Michigan University."

After being poorly treated while protesting on the street corner near Ric's Food Center, Bird said he wanted to assemble a movement as quickly as possible. 

“My sign said 'stop killing us,' and my shirt said 'legalize being black,'” Bird said. “When I held up that sign people were flipping me off, cussing me out multiple times, many looked at me with disgust. I had somebody flash the white power sign to me, just a whole bunch of negativities.”

After this experience, Bird began contacting CMU administrators, community leaders and local police departments. He hopes students walked away with the power to use their voices to inspire change. 

The march drew a crowd of about 350 people to the Bovee University Center, with Bird and local police guiding the protesters through Mount Pleasant. The protesters marched from the Bovee University Center to South Mission Street and eventually settled downtown.

Along the way, students chanted phrases such as “no justice, no peace,” and “hey hey, ho ho, these racist cops have got to go."

Hight, a Grand Rapids junior, was happy to see so many people come to the march and to present these struggles to campus. He said it is something people do not always witness when going through their everyday lives.

“All the police here, you don't know what they were told, what they're trained to do in a situation like this,” Hight said. “It's just sad that especially someone like me or another Black man, we're out here and we think this could be our last day living at a protest like this.”

Detroit sophomore Tramya Hughes said race issues is a national issue that extends past CMU. Nationally, she is looking for equality in the justice system. On a local level, she said the response to things like breaking up parties are not proportional between white and Black students at Mount Pleasant and CMU.

She also wants to see real action from the university, not just emails from CMU President Bob Davies.

Hughs also shared her own experiences with racism at CMU.

Hughes said she was hanging out with her friends last year when a white girl clearly said the n-word. When she and her friends said that is not OK for her to say, the roommate responded that her boyfriend is Black, so she could say it. They had to explain to her why it did not give her the right.   

Lansing junior Olivia Braggs said it’s the day-to-day actions that can be racist.

“You can tell when somebody is giving you an attitude because they don't interact with Black people often,” Braggs said. “If you go to Meijer or grocery store, you get the looks, the side-eyes. I can't even count how many times that's happened to me within the three years I’ve been here.”

When the protesters gathered at the center of the city, a series of speeches from campus and community leaders finalized the night.

Students for the Black Lives Matter movement protest Sept. 10 in downtown Mount Pleasant. The protestors gathered at the Bovee University Center and then marched to the corner of N Main Street and W Broadway Street. 

Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Joseph explained why demonstrations like “Legalize Being Black: Our Lives Matter Too" are essential to the community.

“I get a lot of people ask me, ‘why is this important in Mount Pleasant?’ You’re a small town, you don’t have the problems they have in Milwaukee or Kenosha or Portland or New York,” Joseph said. “I say you’re wrong. Racism is prevalent everywhere in this country and it’s important for us to stand together with our brothers and sisters.”

Assistant Director of Sport Programs Jasmine Holmes said the COVID-19 pandemic get’s prioritized over social justice. It needs focus and a platform at CMU too, she said. Hight shared a similar sentiment when he said Black Lives Matter should be getting at least as much attention as the pandemic.

“Black Lives Matter is such a trend, especially at college universities," Hight said. "It is popular for a week when somebody gets hailed by the police."

"This is just as important (as COVID-19) if not more, because this is an entire community of people. Like, this itself to me is a pandemic.”