"They" being students and community members who gathered at N.C. Central University on Wednesday night. The crowd of about 175 packed under a shelter at the Greek Bowl, just outside of the James E. Shepard Memorial Library on campus. Before the rally started, faint sounds of a marching band could be heard in the background. The horns mixed with the light drizzle. Once the band finished, the campus was silent, except for the voices echoing in the bowl.
The rally was coordinated at North Carolina HBCUs through Black University, a coalition of HBCU students dedicated to liberation through education.
Gathered beneath the shelter in the Greek Bowl, young men and women expressed their concerns, love, hate, and fear—fear of one day not returning home from running an errand, fear of becoming the next trending hashtag, fear for their siblings.
But there they were also finding hope and a community. On Wednesday night, the focus was on the students at NCCU. More than fifteen students spoke, many venting and calling for actions.
One young woman, a political science major, said the shooting death of Keith Scott in Charlotte was "too close to home,” adding she wants to become a member of Congress one day so she can facilitate change.
Freshman Aozjah Robinson-Howell reminded those at the rally that it was OK to be angry and sad.
"Y'all don't have to be quiet about this,” she said. “Y'all have to use your voices. We're the ones that are going to be making the changes (in the world). Y'all can't be afraid to stand up. We're going to have to learn to speak up. Scream if you need to."
Her voice, filling with emotion, began to crack. "They need to hear our voices. Nothing is ever going to change if we stay silent. Nothing will change unless I hear y'all's voices. Why are you still quiet? Say their names!"
She continued: "These are our people out there. This could be us out there dying. Why are y'all not angry? Why are y'all not sad? Why are y'all sitting here quiet? I am not going to stand by and be silent.”
Applause echoed in the area.
Jerome Hawkins, a sophomore at NCCU, took to the center of the crowd to talk. As a young, light-skinned African-American male, he said, the law still sees him as black. "I was raised by a white mother and a black father. My father wasn't' there for most of my life. That's how the stereotype goes. But somehow, a person who is supposed to grow up to be nothing came to this institution by himself."
Hawkins recounted an exchange he and with his best friend over text on Tuesday, in which his friend said he was scared: "I've never seen my friend this scared before in his life. He's scared he can't go down the street with some friends to the store and go get something to drink, because he's scared he's going to get gunned down before he gets back to his dorm. Ain't no reason that should be going on around here."
The rain didn't stop them. Nothing could have stopped them. They've seen too much, been through too much. They wanted a change.