Students joined community and campus leaders to advocate against hate and injustice during a virtual vigil featuring speeches, poems and calls for equity.
The event was hosted by UAB’s Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and UAB Health system, along with organizations from the University of Alabama at Huntsville and Samford University.
“As the world awaited a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial over the death of George Floyd, we remained increasingly aware of our frustrations, angst, and in many cases, desperation around what seems to be a never-ending assault in and on our communities,” Said Anita Clemon, Vice President for Institutional Equity at UAB.
Clemon said officer-involved shootings, gun violence and hate-fueled actions are rising. In 2020, the City of Birmingham saw 122 homicides, according to al.com.
Clemon said she encouraged the audience to take care of themselves, as she reflected on the eruptions of heartache members of the community have felt in the wake of Derek Chauvin’s trial. Before reading an excerpt from Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” Clemon called for “collective action in our communities.”
Laterrica Shelton, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at UAH, encouraged listeners who are grieving to find support if needed.
“Let us commit ourselves to educating,” Shelton said. “Advocating for a world that is equitable, just and kind.”
The vigil came just two days after Derek Chauvin was charged in the murder of George Floyd. In summer of 2020, protesters, including student advocates, flooded the Birmingham streets to bring awareness to George Floyd and other acts of injustice.
Shelton said acts of inequality and injustice have impacted everyone to some degree.
“We join together to remember those whose lives have been tragically cut short to circumstances attributed to numerous societal systemic factors, such as gun violence, bias, hatred, racism and classism,” Shelton said. “The list could go on.”
Shelton said advocacy is an important step to reaching unity and understanding toward one another.
“Let us all reflect honestly on our attitudes and behaviors and how they create boundaries that could sometimes make others feel excluded,” Shelton said.
Shelton said she hopes to empower diverse viewpoints within college campuses.
“With the goal towards unity, empathy and understanding that should naturally lead to advocacy towards others,” Shelton said.
Andre Lessears, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at UAB Medicine and speaker at the vigil, said he prepared a message of “peace and grace.”
“We must remember that we are in this together,” Lessears said. “Even though we may be spread across different campuses in this community, different roles, functions, different capacities, anything that impacts one, impacts all.”
Lessears said he recognizes the sacrifices that the UAB community has made. He said the trials employees and students face are capable of building strength.
“I just ask that you continue to take the time to allow yourself to feel, to heal, to rally together, to lean on those around you, to reach out when you need help and to take time to breathe,” Lessears said.
Messages of self-care and reflection were echoed throughout the vigil. UAB students and employees have access to free mental health resources. Students can click here for more information. Employees can also find mental health resources by clicking here.