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(From left to right) Batool Ibrahim and Temi Onayemi protesting in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Dear Lincoln and UNL community,

The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have reignited a deep and enduring pain in the hearts of the Black community. To our fellow Black students, the Black Student Union (BSU) executives grieve with you now just as we grieved with you in the unjust murders of Black people before them, and as we unfortunately will grieve with you in the unjust murders of Black people that will come after them. These are not isolated incidents. As executives and former executives of the Black Student Union at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, we feel that we have been failed by our campus, our city, our state and our country. The murders have been met with a lack of accountability and overwhelming injustice. This has resulted in protests throughout the country. The continuous disregard for Black lives has long since reached its peak –– in fact, this disregard predates the founding of this nation. Black life has always mattered and it is time for this country to acknowledge it.

We as the Black leadership of this campus demand change. 

As a direct response to the people who are attempting to discredit our protests, we ask you: what brings you more grief, the unjust murders of Black bodies or the broken glass on the street? Your answer is telling. We must make it clear that these protests, demonstrations or whatever words you find fit to describe our rage, is a radical act of Black survival. It is imperative that we recognize that these protests are calling for justice beyond systems of policing. These protests are our method of combating oppression in pursuit of liberation. The unique historical significance of the protests in our capital city of Lincoln, Nebraska, is that it is a direct response to the generational pain that has been inflicted on us since our arrival on this land. This direct action is not only warranted, but necessary. 

The products of these systems of oppression are evident in the lack of diversity in our academic, city and state leadership, the unequal representation on our campus and Nebraska's strategic silencing of Black citizens. These past years as BSU leaders, we listened to the incoming youth of our university exclaim their hurt over the use of the N-word in academic spaces for “educational purposes.” We watched our university officials allow a white terrorist to patronize our campus while he swore to inflict violence on our bodies. We have watched men and women with identities like our own become victims to a criminal justice system rooted in racism. As Black students we are disproportionately impacted by the systemic problems facing our community, we experience food deserts and unequal access to housing. The state of Nebraska and the University of Nebraska system has failed the Black community. Now is the time to take our pain and turn it into action. 

BSU is always a resource for Black students and community members feeling uneasy at this time. We understand the magnitude of these events, and the emotional, mental and physical toll they can take on the body. Your health is always a priority. Be aware that as Black leadership on this campus, it is our first responsibility to look after the health and safety of the students we serve and the community we represent. To quote our brotherhood, the BSU at NYU, “We must rest before we can rise again; renewed by the love we have for our people.” We will take their advice and urge you all to take the time to recharge, remold and rest. Take unapologetic care of yourselves, and remember that Black rest, Black joy, Black happiness is in itself a protest. Do not hesitate to reach out to any member of BSU for assistance. 

This letter is meant to cultivate a way for Black Nebraskans to reclaim our stories and to speak our truth. As we continue to see protests break throughout our own city, we have provided a guideline and list of demands in order to hold our city officials, our university leaders, our student governments and every citizen of this state accountable. 

  1. In the past days, we have watched Lincoln and Omaha police tear gas and shoot rubber bullets at protesters. This country was founded on the right to assemble. City officials should hold LPD accountable and ensure the safety of citizens and uphold the rights we have as such.

  2. There is Black leadership here in Lincoln. Reach out to them. We will not support any attempt to hijack our movement and voice our struggles for us.

  3. As students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, we need our leaders (President [Ted] Carter and Chancellor [Ronnie] Green) to do more than express their support for the Black community. We need action and tangible change from our university leaders. We need you to hire more Black Faculty across ALL departments and we need these academics to be retained and supported. We need you to work towards actively dismantling a system that was made to suppress the Black voice. What will you do to prove unwavering support for the Black scholars that enroll at this university every year? Black students that attend UNL or the [NU] system need assurance from their university leaders that they stand in solidarity and support of the issue at hand.

  4. Historically, our student government, the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska (ASUN) has refused to stand in solidarity with their Black students’ call to action. In 2015, Black leaders on our campus organized a rally following the death of Michael Brown. ASUN refused to formally support the rally because it was “too political.” We are here to say that Black survival is not political. Our existence should not be questioned and our survival should not be debated. We are asking for our student leaders to change this precedent, and cultivate a new one. Stand with the Black Lives Matter movement because a debate is not an option.

  5. We demand that Jake Gardner be immediately charged with the murder of James Scurlock. James is yet another victim of the disregard of Black life, murdered while protesting for his very right to exist. We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Omaha and we grieve with them. James was a father, a brother and a son. Our energies and prayers are with the Scurlock family as they seek justice for the death of their loved one.

Lastly, while we are in the midst of a revolution, we do recognize that we are also in the midst of a pandemic and we must remain mindful of the disproportionate impact this has on our community. BSU has started a community initiative known as BSU Care Bags in which we will deliver bags filled with wellness items such as food, over the counter medication, hand sanitizer and hygiene products. This is not limited to what is stated, please let us know of anything else that your family needs to support your wellness during this time. A Google form with the necessary information will be sent out to estimate the need. This is on a first come first serve basis, so please fill out the Google form immediately if you are in need. 

This initiative is only as effective as the generosity of the community. If you are able, please donate to this cause. 

Venmo: @unlblackstudentunion 

Cash App: $UNLblackstudentunion 

It is crucial to understand that action must accompany voices. We need to be active in manifesting change, and our voices need to be amplified. Here’s how to be vocal: 

  • Donate to the Malone Community Center in Lincoln. They aid the youth of our community by providing education and mentorship.

  • Read and sign the “Justice for George Floyd” petition on change.orgto urge state officials to properly prosecute those involved. 

  • Text “Floyd” to 55156.

  • If you can, donate to the NAACP Legal defense fund, Communities United Against Police Brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement and/or the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

  • Urge our state senators and representatives to break the silence and speak on these events that happen too frequently. 

  • Participate in the protests that are occurring throughout the country. There is power in numbers, and voices are heard when multiplied.

  • Donate to the BSU Care Bags Initiative. 

With unapologetic love,

The Black Student Union, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Signatories:

Batool Ibrahim, Black Student Union President 

Aiah Nour, African Student Association President

Savant Nzayiramya, Rwandan Student Association President

Alicia Johnson, Black Graduate Student Association

Temi Onayemi, Afrikan People’s Union President, 2019-2020

Bousaina Ibrahim, Diversity and Inclusion Co-Chair

Damien Niyonshuti, Diversity and Inclusion Co-Chair

Da’Von George, APU Freshman Action Team President

Santanna Schunk, Phi Iota Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. President, UNL NPHC President

Ibraheem Hamzat, Association of Students of the University of Nebraska (ASUN) External Vice President, 2019-2020

Yakira McKay, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Michael Sanders, Brother2Brother Vice President

opinion@dailynebraskan.com