On Friday, October 20, thousands of Boston College students, faculty, and staff gathered to march in solidarity with black students. The rally was a response to instances of racism the previous week, including the defacing of a Black Lives Matter sign to read “Black Lives don’t Matter,” and a Snapchat of a burnt steak and cheese sandwich with the caption “I like my steak and cheese like I like my slaves.”
Looking out into the crowd at the march, one could not help but notice the multitude of signs bearing some form of a Christian message. Some simply bore the question “WWJD?” (What would Jesus do?), while others cited Bible verses about justice. Still others displayed quotations from prominent Christian thinkers on the topic of marginalization; sayings came from figures such as Archbishop Oscar Romero and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The march opened with a prayer from Fr. Michael Davidson, S.J., who then led the march alongside students in FACES, who carried a “Silence is Still Violence” sign as they made their way down to Corcoran Commons. There, the crowd gathered to hear student speeches.
Among the students who spoke was senior Kerrian Johnson, who spoke about her experiences and gave a religious perspective on the importance of ending racism at Boston College. The Torch interviewed Johnson about her remarks, the significance of the march, and the participation of the Church in institutional racism.
Torch: Can you re-iterate a little bit of what you talked about, and why you think it’s important for the BC community to hear that message?
KJ: In my speech I spoke about [how] despite BC being a predominantly white space, I still tried hard to make BC my home, which for me meant trying to fit myself into white spaces. Through that, I’ve had multiple encounters with racism [from] people who I once called friends or [with] whom I had shared deep parts of myself regarding race and racism. […]
From this point, I segued into the idea that BC supports a culture that allows its students and faculty to make overtly racist comments like this often, on top of the many micro-aggressions students of color face on campus.
I also addressed that Jesus was a man who was born and lived on the margins...born of a lowly carpenter, with hair like wool and feet the color of bronze (Rev. 1:14-15), who spent most of His time with the marginalized and disempowered: the poor, the widow, the orphan, the prostitute, etc. Jesus spent His life correcting the wrongs of society and people hated Him for it. If Jesus were alive in His physical form today, I have no doubt that He would have been walking with us at the demonstration. The Bible has many verses advocating for social justice, but the one I spoke on was "Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the [powerless], plead the cause of the [voiceless]" (Isaiah 1:17).
I stressed that the Bible is the very book BC is built upon and has its values rooted in. The Bible tells us exactly how to act when faced with injustice and oppression, in black and white. BC is doing an inadequate job of living up to its mantra of “men and women for others” and the BC administration is failing at effectively supporting it's AHANA+ [and] specifically Black students. Students do not feel physically safe or respected by their peers and professors, which weighs on their mental health and affects their academic performance and overall BC experience. […]
Torch: What do you think the march and rally accomplished? What were your feelings on the experience overall?
KJ: The fact that the march started and ended with prayer was very important to me. As we called upon the Holy Spirit, He was actively moving in the hearts of those in the crowd, as well as [of] those who watched from their rooms or as they walked by. The Holy Spirit can reach and touch people we cannot reach with our stories. I think the Silence is Still Violence demonstration showed [...] Black students on campus that there are people around them who want to stand in solidarity with us and are willing to hear our story and learn about our experiences of being Black at BC. The demonstration also allowed AHANA+ students on campus to share what it means to be an ally with our non-Black peers. A speaker emphasized that coming to the demonstration and insisting that Black lives are important doesn’t make someone a good person. It makes them a decent person because it is something they should be doing anyway. […] Though there was a lot of gratitude offered to non-Black students who attended the demonstration, there were also a lot of words of constructive criticism and how they could best support and help carry the burden of their AHANA+ [and] specifically Black peers. Overall, the demonstration was a powerful experience, and it was humbling to be able to speak in front of the crowd. I pray that the ball does not drop here and once the hype dies out our white brothers and sisters do not forget our plight.
Torch: What do you think the church can and should be doing to combat racism?
KJ: The church at large should be educating itself in Liberation Christology, which tells of how Jesus himself was born and lived on the margins and how Jesus is found amongst the suffering and the oppressed. The church has a Christian obligation to proclaim the Bible verses that support social justice and the protection of Black people and their existence. I think church members could also benefit from a lot of reflection and time spent actually talking and listening to God and what He holds true. It is all found in His word, and as a Christian, I strongly believe that if you wholeheartedly ask for answers, the Lord provides them. [...]