magazine-category: Students

Gardner-Webb Students Stand Together as One

two students arm in arm in solidarity

More than 300 Gather to Begin Tough Conversations About Racial Injustice and Inequality

Holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “My life matters,” “Act justly, Love mercy, Walk humbly (Micah 6),” and “We stand with you,” a diverse group of students, faculty and staff marched peacefully down Main Street and through campus. Coordinated by Darien Reynolds, Donnie Thompson and other members of the football team, the group’s message was “Together as One.”

The march ended at the O. Max Gardner Music Building, where more than 300 gathered to hear speeches from students, a NAACP representative from Charlotte, N.C., and GWU officials.

Reynolds and Thompson talked to their coaches about having the march and then spread the word on social media. Reynolds graduated in December with a criminal justice degree and minor in homeland security. Thompson graduates in the spring with a sports education degree and minor in communication.

“There’s not a lot of African American students on campus, and I wanted everyone to be educated on what we go through and our lifestyles on a daily basis and make them understand what’s going on in America,” Reynolds said.

Thompson added, “I was pleased with the turnout, but still very hungry to have a bigger crowd next time we put an event together. Racism is real, and it’s everywhere. I want all students to have those hard conversations with their friends and family about ending racism. I want to encourage all the white students to use their voice, because in my opinion, they have the biggest one to help fight this battle and break the chain of hate. We are the strongest when we come together as one.”

Gardner-Webb Head Football Coach Tre Lamb told the crowd that the football team had been discussing racial injustice for a long time. “But, the fact of the matter is, we have been talking about it for 200 years,” Lamb observed. “In my opinion, our generation can be the one to stop it. I’ve got a (young) daughter, and I don’t want her to see this when she gets older. It breaks my heart. Our generation can end it, period. I think we need to encourage each other to have intelligent, difficult conversations. Be around people you’re uncomfortable being around and have real conversations. Get to the depth of what they believe and why they believe it. Have some humility.”

JeNai Davis speaking at rallyJeNai Davis, GWU director of Diversity and Intercultural Initiatives, also emphasized the need to have real communication and to participate in local, state and national elections. “This is a huge movement right now, what you guys are doing,” Davis shared. “You are leaving your mark. You are making the change and that is important. Don’t let the conversations end here. Don’t get out here and march, post your pictures on social media and then go on with your lives tomorrow. If it stops here, the violence still continues as it has for all these years. I want to thank these guys who put this together, because they have friends at other universities who are doing the same thing.”

Gardner-Webb President Dr. William Downs thanked the students for organizing the event. “You know, we talk a lot at Gardner-Webb about ‘community,’” Downs said. “We talk a lot at Gardner-Webb about ‘family.’ This crowd here today is family. This is a big, diverse, amazing family. Of all the groups that exist in society, family is the strongest. Family has the strongest of bonds. Students, faculty, staff … we have to stay glued together. These are uncertain but historic times, and we have to stay together.”

He pledged the University’s commitment and support to every student. “If you want to march together and call on those around us to help make a better world, then we will walk that journey with you,” he affirmed. “We will walk together as one. We will not repay hatred with hatred, but we will make a powerful statement about justice, a powerful statement about respect, a powerful statement about peace, and a powerful statement about unity. Gardner-Webb will stand with you.”

Downs ended his comments with a quote from the late John Lewis, the civil rights leader and congressman from Georgia. “You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone — any person or any force — dampen, dim or diminish your light … Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.”

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