BUS president speaks at May 4 commemoration

Chynna Baldwin

Editor’s Note: Chynna Baldwin, newly-elected president of Kent State’s Black United Students, made her first public speech at the 46th annual May 4 commemoration ceremony on Kent State’s Commons Wednesday. She highlighted the struggle the black community has faced for justice and their ongoing fight. Below is her speech, in its entirety.

Good afternoon. My name is Chynna Baldwin and I am the newly-elected president of one of Kent State’s longest-running student organizations Black United Students.  I am here to offer a unique perspective on where black students were during May 4,1970 and provide clarity on the importance of including the “Black Lives Matter” Movement into today’s commemorative efforts. My expansion upon this angle of thinking is by no means an avenue to distract nor negate the lives taken during these events, but to rather offer empathy on a genre of tragedy so prevalent in the black community.

We Still Have Time

Though we cannot compare pain, taking the time to honestly and openly have a dialogue about our different experiences with law enforcement paves the way for empathy and understanding. Having a safe space to explain one’s hurt, be consoled and then be supported by the community are all basic needs and wants that should be afforded to people of all races, backgrounds, religion, gender, social class and ages. The reality is this: We live in a world where the very people sworn to protect us have proven time and time again to be the makers of our demise. That is what this conversation is about. Some victims of May 4 were students, brothers, sons and friends, just as Tamir Rice. All people, first and foremost.  

The black narrative is an alternative exception where not only do we lose our children, but are not afforded the same grieving time because we are busy explaining our pain, justifying our hurt and defending our struggles. The truth is, no one asks why May 4 is commemorated. There is no discussion about whether the students deserved their death or not because the fact that young lives were taken at the hands of law enforcement is enough.

Yet black lives are not afforded this same luxury. This perspective is not meant to be taken as a black vs. whites conversation, but rather a battle against humanity and all that we as a nation claim to stand for. This is an opportunity of growth and reflection for those on all sides of the table. But let it be clear that some of the outright ignorance and hate speech displayed on social media leading up to this momentous event was sickening.

The mere mention of members of the black community taking part in a conversation so relevant to our experience caused people to cancel their alumni memberships, threaten the safety of students and completely disregard the correlation between May 4 and Tamir Rice’s death / Jackson State shooting for fear of recognizing a bigger issue at hand.  

This past week, people on social media had not the slightest problems expressing their views on “the Black Lives Matter Movement”, Samaria Rice herself and black students on campus.

They neglected to—even for a second acknowledge—the correlation, nor offer it the same respect we offer the events we’re here to honor today on the anniversary of those tragedies. So to those unwilling to even participate in the police brutality conversation as long as Black people are involved:

You will hear our story. You no longer will be afforded the comfortability behind your privilege. Save your white supremacist tears, suppress your racist groans and embody the vibration of the melanin around you.

Restructure the “disgrace” you feel when a fully competent, relevant black woman comes to educate you on police brutality. Come to terms with the reality that black students weren’t shot because Black United Students protected its people by urging them inside.

Empathize with the hard truth that, even though we as a people escaped death on May 4 we didn’t on May 14, 1970, we didn’t on Feb. 26, 2012, Nov. 26, 2014, or July 13, 2015. Why? Because the average person doesn’t recognize these dates in the first place. Because the very same people so easily slandering a woman’s name, disregarding the death of a child and idolizing that child’s killer are the people that we deal with every day.

There will be no progress without the humility of understanding our reality, so understand that these people just described are closer than you think.

These are the students that touch our hair like a young children at a petting zoo. These are the teachers that would rather give us an easy nickname than take the time to pronounce our names given at birth. These are the faculty that say no to funding black cultural programs because they don’t see the importance. These are the community members shutting down their businesses for fear of too many black people gathering.

This kind of hate doesn’t begin and end on social media nor does it subside at the end of a 9-5 shift, it does not cease at the call of 9-1-1 And it certainly doesn’t stop at the pull of a trigger. Yet coming to terms with these passive aggressive, institutionalized forms of racism is a reality that many of us have adopted of being apart of our college experience. So yes, we know pain.

If  you are neutral in situations of injustice, it is true that you have chosen the side of the oppressor. But what does this really mean? It means that humanity as a whole loses because we fail to learn from our past mistakes.

Pain is not had without opportunity for something new to be born and that’s what we have now: opportunity. What we choose to do with our pain is up to us. We can choose the path of humility, education and cooperation or we can choose a long road of competition, debates, and discourse because we can all agree more tragedies are not the answer.

Though this opportunity we are now faced with is one that stems from hurt, misunderstanding and violence, I’d like to offer some encouragement: We still have time.

The message we send to people all around the world can change. We still have time to offer hope instead of hate, compassion instead of complaints, and peace instead of pain.

I guarantee if you ask any parent that has lost a child, they would give anything to have more time with them. How much time it is we have left is up for discussion but here, in moments like these, is where change occurs.