Students and community members come together for second annual Freedom March
Wind and rain did not deter Beloit College students and the greater Beloit community from participating in the college’s second annual Freedom March on Saturday, Oct. 7. Organized by the Office for Inclusive Living and Learning (OILL), students, organization members, community leaders and members assembled at the Beloit Memorial High School (BMHS) field house and later marched to Beloit College.
Last year’s inaugural Freedom March, which also met with dreary weather, had focused on promoting voting rights and the presidential election. In light of growing tensions throughout the country and division between various political and social groups, organizers of the event hoped to promote a message of unity between the campus and community.
The event began at 10 a.m with a brief welcome from Cecil Youngblood, director of the OILL. Youngblood spoke about the importance of members of the community participating and taking action, as “not doing anything is not acceptable.” In response to the likely presence of rain during the march, Youngblood recalled the 1972 song, “Walking in the Rain.” “Think about how good that feels. When you’re walking in the rain with the one you love,” he said.
Theodore Williams’18, one of the driving forces of last year’s Freedom March and an integral part in this year’s as well, also spoke briefly, thanking everyone and urging continued action.
Central Christian Church’s lead pastor, Dr. David Clark, gave an opening prayer that was followed by some members of Beloit College’s acapella group, Bits and Pieces, performing the song “Stand by Me.”
Remarks at BMHS closed with Aminah Crawford’21 and current BMHS student and League of United Latin American Citizens Youth Council (LULAC) President Kalyn Vences. Crawford spoke about her transition from high school to college. “At first it was nerve wracking because of the speculation that [Beloit] accepted weird people,” Crawford said, sparking laughter among the audience. She noted that the Student Excellence and Leadership Program, funded by the United States Department of Education’s Student Support Services TRIO Program, had a huge impact. “I was able to make friends easily,” she said. Through the program and other resources on campus, she was able to come together and meet other people with a similar background.
Crawford noted that unity “can mean different things to different people.” For her, “true unity” lies in the “ability to have different cultures…and people all united.” Crawford called President Donald Trump’s administration “frightening” and set out a list of rules she hoped the audience would also stand for: “We will not stand idly by. We will not stand for lingering and expanding white supremacy. We will not allow bigotry. We will not stand for…leaders who fail to challenge and end discrimination. We will continue to raise awareness until heinous acts stop.”
Crawford ended by urging the audience to “fight back against bigotry,” to “celebrate the differences” in everyone and to “stand together.”
Vences stated that LULAC is an organization that “empowers Latinos in [the] community.” She reminded participants that they are “all a part of this fight, that everyone is “different but equal” and that these “differences hold us together.”
“We will march today because we won’t let hate win,” Vences said.
Youngblood urged all to “enjoy being together” before directing those present to make their way outside.
With chants of “Beloit will stand as one. Unity. Equity. Peace,” “Together united. Will never be divided,” and “We want peace. Yes we do. We want peace. How ‘bout you?” the group made their way to Beloit College’s Flood Arena.
Beloit City Council President Kevin Leavy spoke at the arena. “In this world filled with hate and uncertainty, we need now more than ever to be together,” he said. “We need to build bridges not only in Beloit but in the world.” Leavy also stated that “we need to use our differences to move this city and country forward.” He urged students to begin getting more involved outside of campus. “Beloit College has been its own city for years…you are here. You are citizens of Beloit…I am asking you to get involved,” Leavy said. Leavy reiterated that it was time to try and bridge the disconnect between the city and the school. “There’s a need for you out there in the city of Beloit,” he told students.
Other speakers included Eriq Johnson’19 and Professor of Political Science Ron Watson. Both echoed others’ calls to action and commended the community for exemplifying unity in their ability to come together. Watson asked those in the audience to “help make this a great country.”
After another successful Freedom March, the OILL hopes that the tradition will continue as an annual event for years to come, and organizers hope that the message of unity may continue to be spread along with students’ continued involvement in action against bigotry and hate.