The Gainesville square was silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds Monday afternoon, but it was far from empty.
Protesters organized by the Black Students of Gainesville marched down Spring Street from 2 Dog restaurant to the square on Monday, chanting “No justice, no peace” as they congregated for speeches from Brenau students and faculty members, an African drumming show and an 8-minute, 46-second moment of silence taken to honor the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other victims of police brutality and systemic racism in the United States. Rain and rolling thunder was not enough to wash the protest away, as Black Students of Gainesville members started handing out ponchos, and the event continued as planned.
Marissa Brown, a recent Brenau graduate who was leading the chanting through a megaphone during the event, said the protest and those like it are essential to push the nation toward inclusivity and equality.
“Let’s not wait for another black man or woman to get killed in Gainesville,” she said. “We don’t want to wait for that. We want to make a change now.”
The main purpose of the protest, according to Brenau senior Lathan Roberts, was to spread knowledge about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Roberts said he was happy that his voice, and the voices of black people around the country, are finally being heard.
“The biggest thing right now is educating and making sure that everyone is educating themselves,” he said. “But also that we’re educating others in environments like this, in ways that everyone can get involved.”
Brown said the Black Students of Gainesville had already been fighting against inequality at the school in February before campuses were closed down to slow the spread of COVID-19.
She said that black students did not feel included at Brenau, and that the school did not adequately represent black people in courses such as film studies, where the majority of movies shown were made by white directors and actors.
Alexus Cooper, a senior at Brenau, said the school was severely lacking in events celebrating black history and culture.
“We’re demanding more events that cater to the black community in general,” she said. “They’re not often like that. And more diverse training for faculty so that we don’t have to continue to feel marginalized in the way we do during this time as students.”
Brenau president Anne Skleder, who spoke at the event, said she was greatly moved by the actions of her students, and stood firmly behind them in their fight against racism.
“When people of goodwill come together, stand together and demand change together, the world becomes a better and more equitable place for all,” she said. “Please also know of my personal and professional resolve for Brenau University to be part of a hopeful path forward.”
The protest organized by Brenau students came on the same day as a virtual town hall put on by the University of North Georgia in which a panel of UNG public safety employees addressed questions submitted by students regarding things such as the police hiring process as well as police training in racial bias and de-escalation.
UNG public safety director Justin Gaines said during the event that he felt it important for all police departments to address these issues head on in order to make any progress forward.
“In these times, we have an opportunity to unify together through mutual understanding and discussion on how we can make our lives better together,” he said.
Cooper said she is pleased to see universities leading the way in starting conversations on racism and even happier to see the support garnered for the Black Students of Gainesville from fellow students of all races.
But one of the most promising aspects of Monday’s protest in Cooper’s eyes is the participation she saw from people not enrolled at a college in Gainesville. Cooper said the community itself still has a racism problem, and that problem cannot start to go away until everyone comes together to address it.
“It’s not just within Brenau University that we have felt this,” she said. “There have been times when we’ve experienced racism at the grocery store. It has to be a thing within our community and our area that you can’t continue to do this. We have to stand together and treat people with respect.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote from Marissa Brown.