A dark SAC ballroom twinkled with the glow of candles as the names of 200 black men and women who have been killed in police-involved shootings were read aloud during a vigil called My Black UT Matters on Thursday night.
The event, hosted by Students for Equity and Diversity, was organized in response to the numerous shootings over the summer and to give students a time to reflect on these events, organizer Jasmine Barnes said.
“This summer there were multiple police shootings, and, really for the first time, we were seeing victims being killed on tape,” said Barnes, a sociology and journalism junior. “I remember feeling really alone in that experience and feeling really traumatized by that fact. I didn’t have a space to reflect on that or a community during the summer.”
Barnes said after Terence Crutcher was killed in a police-involved shooting in September, she decided to organize My Black UT Matters to give students feeling similar emotions a community to reflect with.
“We want to reaffirm black students’ existence on campus and in this country,” Barnes said. “Our main goal in holding this event is allow black students’ voices to be heard and for them to feel empowered and feel like they have support, especially during times like this.”
During the reading of the names, marketing sophomore Chase Mitchem sat with his hands over his face. Mitchem said recognizing those who have died allows him to move forward and do something progressive.
“I do it for a spiritual level,” Mitchem said. “The people that died are still here. Their essence is still here. We’re saying it physically, so my head is down so that I can acknowledge that they had a life here and that it was valued.”
Psychology professor Kevin Cokley spoke at the event, discussing his experiences as a black man in the U.S. before the crowd broke into small groups to reflect on the night.
“I have achieved what some people might call a modicum of success,” Cokley said. “Every single day I worry that it can all be taken away from me with one wrong move, one wrong expression or one wrong statement.”
During his speech, Cokley pointed out the diverse group of people who attended the event, the majority of whom wore black in observation of the name reading.
Student Government representatives were also in attendance and helped organize the event.
Administrative director Adit Bior said SG hadn’t officially partnered with the event but said a resolution is being considered for SG to formally support the Black Lives Matter movement along with many members’ informal support for My Black UT Matters.
“Specifically within the black population on campus, we don’t get represented enough,” said Bior, a philosophy senior. “I think it’s important for Student Government members to come out and show our unconditional support for our fellow Longhorns. Speaking for myself, it’s really hard to honestly be a black student in America. It’s like you wake up every day and something else terrible has happened and that really takes a toll on how you go about your day as a Longhorn.”