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ISU Student-Athletes Lead Hundreds In March For Black Voices

Testimonies, tears, and teamwork highlighted Friday's Illinois State University student-athlete-led march through the university’s Quad.

About 300 students attended the Athletics March for Black Voices as athletes called on ISU Athletics, students, and staff to support Black athletes outside of athletics and the Black community in the wake of increased attention to racial injustice around the country.

Following the “All Redbird Lives Matter” comment from Athletics Director Larry Lyons, student-athletes addressed their concerns with the administration and its lack of support for Black Lives Matter to the crowd at the north entrance of Redbird Arena, followed by a march to Hovey Hall on ISU's Quad--filled with “No justice, no peace” and “Black Lives Matter” chants--to hear Black student-athletes share their experiences.

Track and field graduate student Jordan Wilkerson became emotional mid-speech while showing appreciation to the Black community, addressing racism and oppression in the country, and paying tribute to prominent Black figures such as Kobe Bryant, John Lewis, and recently Chadwick Boseman.

Wilkerson called for the athletics administration to genuinely support Black student-athletes. Wilkerson said after a chilling experience at a protest back at his home in Indianapolis, he knew speaking up for the Black community was his passion.

“It's just emotional when we're talking about that,” Wilkerson said. “And it's a little different when you actually see those words come out and you can really feel the pain in here.”

Paige Hilliard, sophomore volleyball player, shared her experiences with microaggressions as a Black woman and Hawaiian, her disappointment with how the community has reacted to Black Lives Matter, and uplifting blackness.

“Black is beautiful. Black is powerful,” Hilliard said. “Our skin absorbs sunlight, and our hair defies gravity. You cannot tell me that we are not magical. Blackness is a gift. Blackness is light. And I hope that you can see that. I hope that you can hear me uplift blackness and not see it as a negative toward anyone else. If you see my love for blackness as hatred for any color, creed or belief other than my own, I am sorry, that is not my problem. I celebrate my blackness and I hope that you can celebrate with me.”

Other speakers included Kimathi Johnson, Tayler Weaver, Julian Hainey, and Luke Nelson.

Soccer player Jenny Scara said as a white person and an ally, it’s not about her feelings. It’s about her supporting her Black peers in seeking change and wanting white Americans to recognize white privilege and uplift the Black community as well.

“Black Lives Matter is such an important movement and the injustice that Black people face in our country is just utterly terrible,” Scara said. “I can't even put it into words honestly. I'm gay and if there was something like an LGBTQ movement on campus, I would want all my friends to be there for me.”

ISU student-athletes released a list of demands for ISU athletics to agree on for them to call off boycotting the upcoming sports season. The demands call for more minority representation in administration, athletic training, and mental health resources along with public support for Black Lives Matter.

Rose Sammons, who attended and is president of Black Girls Code RSO, said she fully supports the demands of ISU student-athletes.

“I think that it is unacceptable that an official that is a part of ISU can speak so carelessly about the movement by saying 'All Redbird Lives Matter,' totally invalidating the movement and very ignorant towards his to the Black student population. And the Black student population makes up most of the sports at ISU.”

ISU President Larry Dietz was on the Quad Friday night, saying he was there to listen.

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Darnysha Mitchell is an Illinois State University student and reporting and social media intern at WGLT.