What was initially intended as a small gathering of friends to pay their respects to Ahmaud Arbery on the one-year anniversary of his murder, turned into an impactful night that
saw participation from over one hundred members of the Dartmouth community. On Tuesday, February 23rd a small group of graduate and undergraduate students lined up outside the Hopkins Center for the Arts to hold candles and share thoughts in memory of Ahmaud Arbery, a young man who was slain in Georgia. The incident, one of many in a long series of horrific public acts of violence toward Black people in America, reignited an entire movement of protests and difficult conversations in support of Black lives.
Isaiah Diaz-Mays (MALS '21) a Diversity Fellow and Hopkins Fellow, and Lessley Hernandez (GR '21) also a Diversity Fellow in the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, began organizing the vigil in early January. Inspired by his participation in summer protests last year, Diaz-Mays worked with Hernandez to organize meetings with a collection of departments and faculty at Dartmouth including Guarini, the Hop, Tucker Center and the Office of Pluarlism and Leadership (OPAL).
The COVID-19 virus has forced numerous restrictions on all in person events, and with this in mind, the Diversity Fellows worked side by side with Conferences & Events to ensure a safe and compliant event. Diagrams were mapped out to display where students could stand, survey sheets containing COVID-19 testing records and other student information were some precautions created to keep all participants safe, including the broader Hanover community.
The night of the vigil was a special moment. Students were afforded an opportunity to openly express their thoughts and feelings away from their computers – an in-person setting that has been truly missed by their peers during the pandemic.
The group of students walked in front of the Hopkins Center for the Arts in single file, then fell into two rows of 8, all holding candles. Diaz-Mays announced the night's intentions and opened with a moment of silence – 8 minutes and 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd, the man who was choked to death by Minneapolis police last May for that same duration.
Following the moment of silence, the floor was open for students to share thoughts and reflections, poems and words of love and hope were voiced during this segment of the event. Students were then invited to leave messages of love and hope, along with the names of many who have suffered from racism and oppression, on a large wooden canvas.
The Diversity Fellows felt the event was a success and Isaiah Diaz-Mays and Lessley Hernandez are hopeful that the event will be annual. They urge the community to never forget what happened, to continue having difficult conversations surrounding systematic oppression in America, and to keep saying the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.
If you missed it, the event can be viewed on the Guarini YouTube page.