“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” These are the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. that members of the Honorable Matthew J. Perry chapter of the Black Law Students Association took to heart in their celebration of the King Holiday.
The student members started their celebration of the life of Dr. King by “dying” in honor of the lives lost to recent social injustices in Ferguson and New York. The lobby of the University of South Carolina School of Law was full of life and conversations during lunch, but quickly turned silent and somber. Students laid motionless on the floor for four minutes with signs saying “Black Lives Matter”, “All Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe.” “Die-in” protests have been happening all over the country, and BLSA members felt that it was time to take a stand on issues that matter to so many people.
“We held a die-in to demonstrate our solidarity against the police brutality that has recently been disproportionally directed at members of the African-American community,” said Cornelius Hair, a second-year law student and BLSA member. Hair feels that the demonstration raises awareness at the law school. Some law students were unaware of what “die-in” protests were for and that they were being done nationwide.
Later that evening BLSA hosted their annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium which discussed the timely topic of “...and Justice for All. Making South Carolina a Safe and Just State.” This theme brought the problems of other states and the entire country to a more local perspective. The panel was moderated by local news anchor Judi Gatson. The panel consisted of local leaders, including City of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, SC State Senator John Scott, and School of Law Assistant Professor Seth Stoughton. The panel gave their personal opinions about things local government can do to prevent events involving citizens and local law enforcement from spiraling into national headlines.
“BLSA commemorated the legacy of Dr. King on his birthday by raising awareness to the fact that while great strides have been made, they are still inequities in minority communities that must change,” said Sonia Canzater, a third year law student and president of the Honorable Matthew J. Perry chapter of BLSA. The event was attended by law enforcement, citizens, community leaders, college students and law students alike. The audience was allowed to directly ask the panel questions and to provide feedback. This event gave members of BLSA and leaders in Columbia an opportunity to have an imperative conversation about the lack of trust between police officers and the community.
BLSA capped of their tribute to MLK with a day of service. Members of the chapter did a local street sweep and clean-up in the Oak-Waverly Community, a historically African-American neighborhood in downtown Columbia.
Dr. King once famously said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” The Honorable Matthew J. Perry chapter of BLSA is definitely moving forward by giving back to the community and working hard to help advocate on the behalf of the voiceless.
– Contributed by Adrian R. Peguese, a third year student at the School of Law, and member of the Honorable Matthew J. Perry chapter of BLSA.