About 200 State College community members gathered on Sunday downtown to take part in a Black Lives Matter march and to listen to six speakers share what it means to be a Black man in America.
The march and teach-in, billed as "Black Men's Tears, Black Men's Dreams," was the latest of about a half-dozen community actions to take place locally over the past month amid the rise of Black Lives Matter protests and rallies following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The 3/20 Coalition, the advocacy organization formed last year after the fatal police shooting of Osaze Osagie in State College, organized the event. Members said that a week after Father's Day, the focus was meant to mourn the loss of Black fathers and their children to racist acts and police brutality, as well as celebrate hopes for a brighter future.
"When Father’s Day came around, a lot of us celebrated and bought cards for our loved ones. We realize there were so many people who would not receive a card or could not give a card to their fathers," coalition member Tierra Williams said. "We want justice for Black lives, but we also just want peace. We don't want to be angry. We don’t want to be in fear for our lives when getting pulled over. We don’t want to be watched in supermarkets. We don’t want to bury our children for playing with toy guns in the park. We don’t want to bury our friend because he went on a jog. That’s why we’re out here today."
Starting at the Allen Street Gates, participants marched through downtown to the State College Municipal Building on South Allen Street, with several carrying a symbolic coffin.
The event also continued to highlight the 3/20 Coalition's demands for local police reform. State College Borough Council passed a resolution last week pledging to address eight of those demands, including creation of a community oversight board for the police department. Coalition members have continued to press for the other two: the naming of the officers involved in the Osagie shooting and the firing of the officer who shot him, as well as financial compensation to Osagie's parents.
Outside the borough building, the speakers shared their personal experiences with racism and how it impacts life for Black men and women throughout the United States.
"I am not a father, but I am a son. I’m a son of a black father and I have black nephews," said Gabriel Green, a doctoral student in English and African American and Diaspora Studies at Penn State. "I’m here so hopefully one day they won’t have to be."
Gabriel Green, a doctoral student in English and African American and Diaspora Studies at Penn State, speaks outside the State College Municipal Building during a Black Lives Matter Teach-In on Sunday, June 28, 2020. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
Green spoke about "the talk" Black parents give their children about interacting with police officers, such as making sure police can see your hands, that you always answer 'yes, sir' of 'no, sir,' that you always move slowly and more.
"This is not from the standpoint of things you should do for authority or polite things to do, but things that are going to keep you alive," he said. "That’s a whole lot of 'make sures' for a little kid to hear. That’s a whole lot of 'make sures' for a parent to have to tell a child. And it’s a whole lot of 'make sures' that are not being told to the police, a whole lot of 'make sures' that are not being told to the congressmen... As far as I’m concerned that seems like misplaced responsibility to me."
Jerome Clarke, a doctoral student in philosophy at Penn State, said growing up in Philadelphia, with a family largely comprised of immigrants from Trinidad & Tobago, he often feared that when he called his parents, uncles and cousins, they wouldn't answer. He worried an uncle might have a fit of anxiety and not "remember this protocol that we all teach our kids about how to encounter and deal with police." And he worried that a traffic stop might lead to a family member being deported.
Jerome Clarke, a doctoral student in philosophy at Penn State, speaks outside the State College Municipal Building during a Black Lives Matter Teach-In on Sunday, June 28, 2020. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
"This is often times how Black people experience racism in this country," Clarke said. "It’s all the crises built into one experience, and it can be one experience with the police. There’s this common phrase that goes something like '...The system’s not broken; it’s working just as it’s intended to.’ As you can tell, as you watch the news media today and as some of my Black brothers here have experienced, the system is not really built for us."
Terry Watson, a State College resident and founder of Strategies for Justice, said that as part of his work, he speaks to both police and victims of police brutality all over the country about Black Lives Matter.
"I love the notion of 'all lives matter,'" Watson said. "But I would love it a lot more if it was true... For 'all lives matter' to happen, it must be ingrained in our hearts, in our minds and in our consciousness."
He said he spoke with a 19-year police veteran who was fired after she intervened to stop another officer from choking a Black man already in handcuffs, and being punched by that same officer. He spoke with a police officer who was on the job for 13 years until she was raped by another officer. And he spoke with the son of a Marine who returned home from overseas to serve in law enforcement only to be called a racial slur and shot by a police officer.
"Where was 'all lives matter' then?" Watson said.
Terry Watson, founder of Strategies for Justice, speaks outside the State College Municipal Building during a Black Lives Matter Teach-In on Sunday, June 28, 2020. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
Christopher DeJarnett, a doctoral student in education policy, recounted how on his first night in State College, he sat in a lawn chair outside his apartment smoking a cigarette and said hello to a neighbor, who called the police about him, then would not speak to him for the next two years.
"You are not allowed to feel discomfort for your transgressions against me," he said.
DeJarnett said those who want to understand and help stop racism need to first listen to what people of color say about their experiences and history.
"Talking and listening don’t happen at the same time," he said. "Once you’ve heard what is going on, listen to it. Internalize it. Contemplate it. Examine how you contribute to it."
Christopher DeJarnett, a doctoral student in education policy at Penn State, speaks outside the State College Municipal Building during a Black Lives Matter Teach-In on Sunday, June 28, 2020. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
The event ended with participants lighting candles and holding a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the length of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck.
"We understand that is a long time to be quiet and that’s the point," Green said. "We need it to be understood just how long that is. This is not just for George Floyd. This is for every life lost in the struggle. This is for the Rayshard Brookses. This is for the Ahmaud Arberys. This is for the Breonna Taylors. This is for every Black person and person of color — be they men, be they women, be they trans people of color — for every soul that is lost in the struggle"
Participants at a Black Lives Matter march and teach-in hold candles during a moment of silence on Sunday, June 28, 2020 outside the State College Municipal Building. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
Ismaila Dabo, a professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State, speaks outside the State College Municipal Building during a Black Lives Matter Teach-In on Sunday, June 28, 2020. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
Penn State student Ebenezer Akande speaks outside the State College Municipal Building during a Black Lives Matter Teach-In on Sunday, June 28, 2020. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com