Now is not the time to take sides, now is the time to come together, LSU students urged the Baton Rouge community on Wednesday at a daytime vigil on campus.
In the blistering summer heat, and with a month left before fall classes are set to start, more than a hundred people gathered under the oak trees by LSU Memorial Tower to acknowledge the shocking events of the past month that have cast a shadow over the city.
The event was co-organized by LSU Student Government, with student leaders acknowledging that much of the conflict in past weeks has been rooted in a racial divide and a lack of understanding about people who come from different backgrounds.
The theme of the event was unity and healing. In recent weeks Baton Rouge has been rocked by both the shooting death of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man killed in a scuffle with police, and the more recent targeted killings of three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers by a Kansas City man who was apparently acting in retaliation.
"We're not here to pick a side," said Monturios Howard, an LSU senior. "We're here to create a sense of community."
Howard, a black student who told the audience he grew up in a poor home, shared the stage with LSU Student Government President Zack Faircloth, a white student. He said the two have come from different backgrounds and have often disagreed about things politically but felt the need to come together about what they agreed on.
In his statements, Faircloth highlighted the heroism of the law enforcement leaders killed in action. He then encouraged LSU students to embrace the diversity of being on a large campus.
"We have a unique and fantastic opportunity to be exposed to others, those who don't look like us, those who don't act like us and those who don't necessarily think like us," he said. "The beauty of LSU is all of us are Tigers, we're a family."
Howard and Faircloth urged LSU students to take the time to talk to new people and bridge a racial divide by having conversations.
The Rev. Raymond Jetson, keynote speaker of the vigil, stressed that young people will ultimately be the ones to shape the community's future, framing the recent events as a watershed moment for the capitol city.
"Change, real change, social movements that have changed the landscape of this world have always been led by the young," he said. "So who among you will be the ones who gives pen to paper and explains challenges through the lens of your eyes? Who among you will write the lyrics? Who among you will impact the policy?"
Jetson, touching on the totality of both the Sterling and police shootings, said Baton Rouge can not heal without acknowledging the root of the problem.
"Healing requires that we first of all acknowledge there is a wound or an illness," he said. "Unless or until we are ready to acknowledge the illness, then what is the appropriate treatment? It begins with the recognition that something is fundamentally wrong."
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