Author, activist addresses racism

Payton Moore

The two stories of Kent State and Jackson State University were blended Wednesday by Ibram X. Kendi in his presentation “Student Lives Matter: Resistance and Violence from Kent State to Jackson State.”

Kendi outlined the events that sparked the May 4 shootings: the escalation of violence in downtown Kent; the burning of the ROTC building in anger of the draft and Vietnam war; the four-day-long protest despite the arrival of the National Guard; the shots fired outside Taylor Hall and the murder of four students.

“Those students were seen as menaces to society as so many people see black people today: menaces,” Kendi said.

The National Guardsmen were told they had the right to disperse the crowd at Kent, he said.

Kendi told the audience that during the 60s, the mass amounts of students striking made it the largest of all time. In Boston, 10,000 marched to the Massachusetts State House in protest of the massacre. Twelve students were wounded in protest at SUNY Buffalo. The worst, Kendi said, was at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, where 3,000 students were tear-gassed in their protest.

Kendi told the story of how two students were shot and killed in a similar protest at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, 11 days after May 4.

“Guards claimed they ‘were in fear of their lives.’ Doesn’t this sound familiar? Is that not what George Zimmerman said, what Darren Wilson said?” Kendi said.

Kiara White, a junior pan-African studies major, attended the speech and spoke out about her frustrations with unjust treatment of black students on campus.

“After the Black United Students marched to paint the rock black for solidarity after the killing of Mike Brown, a white swastika was painted over it,” she told Kendi.

When asked if Kendi believes history could repeat itself, he asked the crowd how they were taught civil rights came about.

“The reality is that civil rights happening during the cold war meant the image of USA was on trial,” Kendi said. “Truman pushed civil rights legislation because it would help foreign policy. ‘Look at the great freedom of America, come do business with us.’”

White said she feels racism is frustrating and that she cannot do anything about it.

“Students can be a really good start,” White said “The things you learn in school you get good at, so that when you graduate and go out into your community, you can use those skills to build and implement the things you learned. If you start here, you’ll make a change. It won’t be immediate, but over time it will happen.”

Kendi, author of The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education 1965-1972, works as a visiting assistant professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, teaching and speaking on racial and governmental injustices.

Contact Payton Moore at [email protected].