Disclaimer: This story contains reference to racial slurs.
Hundreds of faculty, staff, and students filled the University Center ballroom to attend the third annual All Black Gala on Sunday, Feb. 10 at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB).
The keynote speakers of this event were Michael Brown Sr., whose son, Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri and Dr. David Ragland who is a co founder of the Truth Telling project. Marcellus Buckley, an international activist and artist was not able to attend because of bad weather and flight difficulties.
Introducing the night’s speakers was Shanieka Jones, CSUMB’s director of clery compliance, along with select student ambassadors from CSUMB. Jones lightened up the crowd by recognizing all of the attendees in their formal wear saying, “I see you all! My cocoa butter wearin’, melanin, tea tree oil… I see all of you!”
The first to speak was Brown who received a standing ovation when he walked on stage. He discussed with the crowd what he was doing and how he felt on the day he found out his 18-year-old son, who had recently graduated from high school, was shot multiple times in the middle of the street. At first, he did not believe it was his son that was killed.
“August 9, 2014 I had just got off work, around 11. I was doing laundry with my wife, and around 11:45 I got a phone call from Michael’s grandmother… she said that the police shot Mikey and he was lying dead in the street,” said the elder Brown.
The younger Brown’s death sparked outrage and protests in Ferguson and propelled the Black Lives Matter Movement. Later the elder Brown founded the Chosen for Change foundation to provide community awareness of the wrongful death of his son and other similar cases.
When asked from a member of the crowd how he keeps moving forward despite the tragic death of his son, Brown announced that some days were harder than others. He turned all the anger he was feeling into positivity and purpose. “Michael Brown changed a lot of things,” said Brown about his son. “He changed a lot of policies. His mother started petitions. He worked from the grave.”
After Brown’s powerful speech about his son and the injustices that took place in 2014, Ragland came on stage to speak from a more academic perspective on Ferguson. “We need more teachers that look like the people they are teaching,” said Ragland. “Violence begets violence. Violence is a problem.”
“We have an entire generation of people growing up believing that black people were brought here as workers. Nawh …we were brought here as slaves!” said Ragland, which led the entire crowd to erupt in applause. He continued, “Black lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”
When the keynote speakers were asked questions, racism at a local school was brought up. Dariah Synal, who is the president of the Black Students Union at Monterey High School, discussed how two students used offensive words. Two females used a racial slur on separate occasions and posted it onto social media for people to view, one wearing a charcoal-colored face mask saying, “Is this what being a n***er feels like?” The incidents were reported to the school district, which the students stated has done little about the situation.
“This is an age of black face, of white people saying the N-word, of blatant disrespect of what black people are asking for, and it shouldn’t be tolerated,” said Ragland. “If we believe in a human dignity and support and care about our students, then we’ll deal with those issues. If [they] don’t, the school district is showing what they care about, and it’s not the Black and brown students.”
Many of the students were impressed by the night’s event. “The speakers were great,” said Sarah Smith, a CSUMB student, about the All Black Gala after it ended. “As a white person, it opened my eyes and gave a point of view that I haven’t been exposed to.”
Jennifer Costa, a member of Associated Students, wished there were more people in attendance, “I think it was powerful and a very necessary conversation to have and hear.”