USC students organize Black Lives Matter March around campus

Black student activists call for USC administration and students to continue the fight for Black lives beyond protests

Students, parents, faculty and community members joined together on Saturday to march in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The protest was organized by the Black Student Assembly (BSA) and musician and USC alumnus Kabwasa.

The protestors joined millions of others around the world to honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other victims of police violence and to protest against the racial injustice Black students face on the university’s campus.

Beginning at the intersection of McClintock Ave. and Jefferson Blvd. at 10 a.m., the crowd joined in a 3-mile march around the USC campus.

Chants led by various members of the march sounded throughout the crowd.

Call: “Black Lives Matter.” Response: “Black Lives Matter!”

Call: “Say her name!” Response: “Breonna Taylor!”

Call: “Black Trans Lives Matter!” Response: “Black Trans Lives Matter!”

The protestors made their way to USC’s Greek Row, where students were watching the march go by from their porches.

The march continued under the watchful eye of the iconic neighborhood mascot, Felix the Cat, as the group turned right to head down Exposition Blvd.

Marching down the streets of Exposition Park, the neighborhood in South Los Angeles home to USC, the crowd held signs with powerful statements. Some were simple and straight to the point, reading, “Black Lives Matter,” and others were more creative with sayings like, “Respect existence or expect resistance!”

People in the crowd handed out water and stickers. The A.V. Affinity group, a collective run by Tyler Sinnes, a USC narrative studies major, handed out breakfast burritos, as well.

The crowd finished their march at the gates at the end of Trousdale Pkwy, and the speakers began.

Members of the USC community, including alumni, former USG senators and members of BSA, gave moving speeches for the surrounding crowd. Current students from a variety of disciplines and graduation years also shared their experiences as Black people in life and at USC.

Speeches from USC students Ashely Estés and Mae Gates, both Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. members, and alumna Juice Wood evoked whoops, snaps, claps and cheers from the crowd.

Estés pleaded for visibility from others in conjunction with her experiences as a Black woman.

“Black women, the birthers of our race, are asking that the same energy be exerted for Breonna Taylor and Black women, period,” Estés said passionately.

During Estés’s speech, many members of the crowd grew emotional. A number of surrounding audience members had tears streaming down their faces, while others encouraged Estés with yells of “Speak on it!” and applause.

Gates called for education among her peers and fellow community members.

“It’s the same thing we were saying in the ’60s, it’s the same thing we were saying in the 1600s,” Gates cried. “Knowledge is power!”

Wood used her powerful voice to talk about USC as a gentrifying force in the surrounding neighborhood.

“This USC Village was a community village,” Wood said. “Until white people decided they wanted more places to eat!”

Many of USC’s spearhead figures, administrative leaders and Board of Trustee members were missing from the crowd, including Carol Folt and chair of the Board Rick Caruso.

Their absence did not go unacknowledged. USC Alumna Quincy Nkwonta called out for Folt and Department of Public Safety Chief John Thomas, but was greeted with silence.

Instead, Assistant Chief Alma Burke spoke on behalf of the USC DPS and claimed that Chief Thomas had attended the march, but he needed to recover from dehydration before attending the rally.

Chief Thomas later stepped to the front of the protest, wearing a #42 Dodgers jersey. Number 42 is retired across all major league teams in honor of Jackie Robinson, one of the first African American baseball players to play professional baseball.

President Folt did not attend the protest and has not released a statement regarding her absence.

Chief Thomas promised that new DPS policies would be discussed by an advisory committee, but he gave no specifics about the committee’s members or direction. He also pledged to hold DPS officers accountable for profiling Black students.

Meagan Lane, a former USC Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Senator, proclaimed passionately in response to Thomas’ statements, “You should be ashamed. Where were you when we needed you?”

Lane is one of many students who recounted their negative experiences with campus security since the start of Chief Thomas’ tenure in 2006. Notably, during the 2019 Homecoming tailgates, many Black and brown student organizations were directed to hold their tailgates on small squares of grass surrounded by chain-link fencing.

Protest organizers demanded that DPS and USC administration employ Black and brown Masters and Ph.D. students to collaborate on these future policy-making decisions.

Other speakers included rapper and former USC student 24kGoldn, student-athletes, Kaufmann School of Dance Associate Professor of Practice d. Sabela Grimes and visiting friends and family of USC students.

DPS officers monitored the protest, riding on bicycles alongside the march and pausing at Royal St. and Jefferson Blvd., the end of the protest route. The Los Angeles Police Department was not present.

While some students saw the protest as a sign of hope for the future, many Black students have insisted that one gathering is not enough.

“I want a meeting with [President Folt]. I don’t want USG to water down these solutions,” proclaimed Jephtha Prempeh.

Prempeh is the creator of a change.org platform calling for President Folt and USC to address anti-Blackness on campus. As of early Monday morning, the petition has over 6,700 signatories.

Prempeh, along with the stipulations of the petition, demanded that USC reconsider the opening of the “Black House,” increase the number of Black mental health providers, hold DPS accountable for racially charged violence and set aside more space on campus for Black and brown students.

The community, despite the blazing heat and sticky humidity, came together to witness a chapter in future history books. Amir Kelly, a USC alumnus and musician, reminded the audience that this fight is not timely. Racism, police brutality and the fight for equality does not go away when COVID-19 ceases.

“This is not your quarantine hobby!” Kelly said.

Students can find more resources about the Black Lives Matter movement and an address to Trojans on the BSA website.