A small crowd of students gathered in a circle around the Baldwin Hall memorial on Feb. 21 to honor black history through spoken word and song.
The Student Government Association at the University of Georgia hosted a Black History vigil at the Baldwin Hall memorial, which was officially dedicated last November for the buried bodies suspected to be slaves. The first remains were found on the University of Georgia’s campus during construction of Baldwin Hall in November 2015.
The vigil began with a couple of songs sung by students. Agbai Kalu, a senior chemistry major, started off singing “A Change Is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke. Shortly after, Ololade Akintunde, a junior political science and sociology major, and Wilkray Biboum, a junior nutritional sciences major, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing" by brothers James and John Johnson, often referred to as the "Black National Anthem"
The vigil was led by SGA President Ammishaddai Grand-Jean who wanted it to be a place of reflection and healing.
“It was just bringing students together … and take a moment to reflect on black history, to reflect on those who aided towards making black history a reality,” Grand-Jean said.
SGA proposed legislation last year regarding recognition of the buried slaves. Resolution 31-13, “A Resolution to Memorialize Enslaved Peoples at the University of Georgia,” detailed a number of reasons why the university should recognize its history with slavery and honor the memory of the enslaved people who were buried on the university’s campus.
“I want [this vigil] to leave an impact of unity, but then again a sense of understanding of black history as a whole – understanding the emotion of trauma but also the emotion of joy that comes from it."
— Destin Mizelle, SGA treasurer
Jordan Campbell, a freshman media studies major, attended in support of the vigil and the topics it addressed.
“As far as I’ve been here, this is one of the real things … that [the university] has done to address slavery’s history at this university,” Campbell said.
Destin Mizelle, SGA treasurer, said that this vigil was unlike previous black vigils on campus because it wasn’t prompted by a recent tragedy. He said the vigil was more about celebrating history.
“I want [this vigil] to leave an impact of unity, but then again a sense of understanding of black history as a whole – understanding the emotion of trauma but also the emotion of joy that comes from it,” Mizelle said.
Grand-Jean spoke to attendees about how black people throughout history have turned their pain and tragedy into peace and hope. He spoke about the importance of moving forward and pushing for equality despite the challenges and adversity a person might face.
Tifara Brown, UGA alumna, came to the vigil to read her original poems about black history. One of the poems discussed what drowned victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade might say.
“I feel like there’s a lot of healing that comes from gatherings like this because ... it’s a perfect balance between honoring the past but then, at the same time, realizing that we have a whole future in front of us,” Brown said.
Despite a few sprinkles of rain, participants of the vigil were given candles. As individuals lit their candles, they spoke about the kind of legacy inspired by black history they plan to leave behind.
One student wanted to promote a culture of love while another wanted to inspire black youth. Another wanted to continue to fight for black members of the LGBTQ community, and another wanted to continue the tradition of storytelling in the African-American community.
Before the vigil ended, Grand-Jean led the attendees in a moment of silence before bringing the vigil to a close with a rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”
“I hope people are comfortable now with the monument … just knowing about the history of this place, but also being proud individuals working towards equality for all and goodwill,” Grand-Jean said.