Approximately 500 HBS students, partners, faculty and staff gathered this evening in the Burden auditorium for an historic vigil that commemorated the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, unarmed black men who were killed by police this year. Organizers hope the event will encourage HBS students to acknowledge injustices that exist in society and to use their positions of power to address those injustices.
At the vigil, which was organized by African American Students Union Co-Presidents Erin Patten and Neil Wusu, the students heard three of their classmates – Patricia Branch-Zakkour, Philip Blackett and Marcos Valdez – share emotional personal stories of their experiences with police as young people of color.
The students shared that, even as young people who would later go on to attend HBS, they had been forced to the ground at gunpoint by police; had been stopped and searched for standing on public streets and had their cars stopped and searched under the accusation of buying drugs.
Before those stories, the assembled crowd was told by Professor Tom DeLong that this was the first such awareness-raising vigil in the history of HBS.
After the vigil, students moved en masse to the Spangler Lawn where they stood with candles in the light rain for four and a half minutes, in recognition of the four and a half hours Michael Brown’s body was left in the street after he was fatally shot in Ferguson, Missouri in August.
In an interview with The Harbus, Erin explained why the AASU decided to hold the event:
‘It’s hard to ignore the cries for justice across our nation and more specifically across the Harvard University system. We felt an urgent responsibility to address these tough issues at HBS because many students were feeling hurt, angry, confused or simply uninformed about what was happening and what continues to happen around them.’
They hope, Erin said, that the vigil ‘is a first step in acknowledging that injustices and biases are systematically embedded throughout our society.’
‘Our greatest hope,’ she said, ‘is people see the #MakeADifference Portrait Project and attend the Vigil to understand that the events that transpired in Ferguson, Staten Island, and Cleveland are not isolated events. Racial discrimination is a shared experience despite gender or socioeconomic background.’
‘We want this event to start a dialogue across the HBS community involving American and international students, faculty, and the administration. Racial and ethnic disparities and injustices are not unique to the United States, so it is critical that everyone thinks about what they can do to change their internal biases, what they can do to be an ally, and how they can leverage their professional and civic careers in a more meaningful way.’
Erin said she hopes that HBS students, as future leaders in business and society will ‘open up their ears and their hearts to the oppressed and underprivileged, and then use their positions of influence and power to fundamentally change the systemic biases that continue to plague our society.’
‘Put simply,’ she said, ‘the first step is caring. The second step is using your voice to influence the popular discourse around these issues in order to create political pressure to change our systems.’