A large, diverse crowd gathered on the Edmon Low Library lawn Saturday for the March for Black Lives Juneteenth celebration.
The event was organized by Destinee Adams, Payton Dougherty, Sean Tolbert, Gregory Samuel, and Brenden Determann. All five are seniors at Oklahoma State University. These students also authored a document called the List of Urgencies, which was a centerpiece of the event.
Well over 100 people attended the event, nearly all of whom wore some kind of face covering. The event was held outdoors in its entirety. Masks and sanitizer were available, and social distancing was encouraged.
According to data from Oklahoma’s Department of Health, Stillwater had 147 known active cases of COVID-19 as of June 27. Since the pandemic began, Stillwater has accounted for 305 total confirmed cases of the virus, with zero reported deaths.
The event was both a Juneteenth celebration and a call for changes to university policy. The List of Urgencies, which is available for viewing online, is a petition outlining specific steps towards advancing racial equity on campus.
The eleven points outlined in the document touch on a variety of concerns for minority students, from the diversity of hiring practices, to the availability and funding of support services. The document also calls for increased transparency from the university when it comes to issues of racial equity, and increasing and improving diversity education for both students and staff.
At approximately 6:30 p.m., the crowd was organized into a line, and began marching. The peaceful protestors marched around the Edmon Low Library, and over to Monroe Street, which OSUPD had closed for the event. They made their way down to Theta Pond, and then back to library lawn.
As the line of protestors made their way along the route, Samuel led the group in several call-and-response style chants. The names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were frequent rallying cries for the marchers. Slogans seen in protests across the country also made their way into the retinue.
“Hands up!” Samuel yelled.
“Don’t shoot!” the crowd responded.
Samuel, who studies political science, said the purpose of the event was bringing people together and helping them understand racial inequality.
“I know something has to be done,” Samuel said
He said the students are asking for progressive change to make the university more racially equitable. Samuel said everyone, regardless of race, has a part to play in this movement.
“Everything we do should be equitable, and we should get the resources we need to be successful on campus,” Samuel said.
The protestors then spread out across the lawn, and settled down to listen to a series of speeches. Nearby, a small group of self-described “concerned citizens” was helping people register to vote.
Adams, a multimedia journalism student, was the first of the organizers to give a speech. She urged the crowd to review, give input, and sign the List of Urgencies.
“We’re really wanting to make change here at OSU,” Adams said. “We want to make this a home for everybody.”
Dougherty, a political science and philosophy student, took the megaphone to address the crowd once Adams was finished speaking. She said small reforms alone were not enough to fix systems that were founded on white supremacy.
“We want to change the way that power is distributed, and functions, altogether,” Dougherty said.
She said institutions needed to be rebuilt from the ground up in order to make them function better for everyone.
“Nobody needs permission to take action,” Dougherty said.
Other organizers for the event focused similarly on the need for urgent change.
Tolbert, who studies business management as OSU, said after the rally that the List of Urgencies was a collaborative effort made with input from students, staff, and faculty. He said implementation of the policies on the list would make campus a better place for everyone.
“Black liberation brings liberation for everyone,” Tolbert said.
Although the event was organized by OSU students, Black Lives Matter Director Sheri Dickerson attended and spoke to the assembled protestors.
Dickerson said she would rather be celebrating community successes than memorializing community losses. However, less than 48 hours ago Robert D’Lon Harris was killed by law enforcement, she said.
“Did you know that we had another hashtag in Oklahoma?” Dickerson asked the silent crowd.
She said Oklahoma had one of the worst records of deadly interactions between law enforcement and people of color. She urged the protestors to commit to change, and be willing to take action to bring that change about.
“If you want to bring change, I need you to invest in the systems, and the people, that will bring it,” Dickerson said.
Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, Destinee Adams is a member of The O’Colly’s Fall Editorial Board. However, she had no influence on the narrative of this story, and was not given the chance to review this article before its publishing.