Bonfire memorial event honors lost Black lives

Madeline S. Scharf Reporter

Students, faculty, and community members gathered around a replica bonfire. Holding plastic candles and flowers, they placed the items around the “fire” of tissue paper and fairy lights: a memorial to Black lives lost.

Standing in a semicircle on Thursday, April 29, many stepped into the center to read their poetry, spoken word, and thoughts about the struggles of racism, anti-Black rhetoric, and other issues that have plagued minority groups in America.

History professor Siobhan Carter-David and Ala Ochumare, co-founder of Black Lives Matter New Haven, hosted the event. Many people, from students to professors, spoke at the event, from students to teachers. Some shared poetry, others, their personal stories.

The event was attended by people from all walks of life. The event was described on the university calendar as being a place for people to engage and learn. “We unite to offer a space to listen, share, and reflect on how we can identify ways for community action, inclusivity, coping, and support for each other,” said the event listing.

Students who attended thought the event was a good place to learn and grow. Sociology major Michelle Lumbsprom, a senior, went to the program. “I came because there has been so much racial strife,” said Lumbsprom, “so much aggressive behavior towards people of color. I felt like we needed to come out here to support them.”

Sociology class 298, Abolition, Activism, & Reform also attended the event. Political Science major Jaznelle Nuñez, a junior, is a student in the class. “We came because our class talks a lot about police abolition and reform,” said Nuñez.

Many faculty members from the university also attended this event. President Joe Bertolino discussed how important accountability is. “Students, continue to speak up and confront senior leadership. Hold us accountable,” said the president. “The senior leadership is engaged in work to help us learn more and be more accountable.”

President Bertolino spoke about plans for an expanded staff for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to work on issues of racism and inequality. “It is not Diane [Ariza, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] job to fix it. She is one person. We are going to create a division, so I think we are planning on hiring four or five new people,” said Bertolino.

The President expressed his worries for those in the community and rallied behind change and equity. “But we have work to do,” said Bertolino, “and we are committed to the work.”

The event featured poetry was featured by many different students and community members. Lynette Johnson, a poet, read an untitled poem she wrote about the killings of people of color by police. “We have to say their names,” began Johnson’s poem.

The poem delved into the unjust killings and how the community was saddened by the losses of many people at the hands of the police. “We mourned them like they were family,” said Johnson. The poem concluded with listing many names of people who have died, ending with, “I wrote this poem a year ago, but I had to add ten more names.”

The night was not just a place to voice community issues, but also a place to learn more about these problems and to get support. “One can always be a student,” said Nuñez. “People just need to be willing to learn. This is a good space to learn.”

Coming together was a big theme during the open mic event. “There is strength in numbers,” said Lumbsprom. “There is only one way to push change, and that is together.”

Students were engaged with this event and are hopeful more like it will occur. “Social justice events are crucial to supporting Black Lives Matter,” said Lumbsprom, “I really think events like these are important.”

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