The Grambling State track team stood together Friday, clad in purple and black, with somber looks and the words "protect us" emblazoned across their chests.
It was a message and a memorial from one HBCU to another, honoring the memories of the two Southern University students, Annette January and Lashuntae Benton, who were gunned down at an off-campus apartment last month. January was also a member of the Southern track team.
The team took to the track with a sign that read: "Did you know .. There is still a far-larger amount of black people killed by blacks than any other race! Let's STOP Black on Black VIOLENCE."
Malik Wheeler and Jahi Gilkey, who spearheaded the movement, said their goal is to bring awareness and attention to creating a better and safer atmosphere on HBCU campuses.
"We're just trying to use all our resources to push the word and trying to create a big voice, so they can hear us," Gilkey said, noting the choice of purple shirts was a nod to January, as it was her favorite color. The choice of "protect us" was referring to protecting the "sanctity" of students at HBCUs, and the culture therein.
"This was something that could happen to any of us," Gilkey said, noting that they did not know January personally, but had spoken to those who were close to her. "We're all kind of connected in this sense of unity, pride. As leaders of our community we just stepped up and tried to act on it, just to do something small to celebrate the beautiful lives of these girls."
Wheeler said their "movement" is focused mainly through social media, where they can connect to communities with their goals of a safer atmosphere.
"My teammates and I are planning to be more engaged and more active," he said. "This is a stepping stone to get everyone aware that we're more than athletes."
The shooting of the two 19-year-olds remains largely a mystery, as no one has been arrested in connection with their deaths. One man has been arrested and accused of shooting at another gunman, but he has not been named a suspect in the deaths of January and Benton.
“How do I feel? Pissed off and angry. Because my child is gone and there’s no one to account for her death,” said Benton’s mother, Theresa Tillman, earlier this month responding to the non-news that law enforcement officials haven’t announced any major findings in the case in weeks.
Police allege Ernest Bernard Felton, the man who was arrested, initiated the altercation, but at least four witnesses have told The Advocate varying versions of another story, saying Felton was trying to protect his friends when a car driven by a gun-wielding man making threats sped through the apartment parking lot.
The case remains open and under investigation.
“The only people who suffer are the people who are deceased, because the other people get to walk out with a pat on the back, or a little tap here, and go on with their lives and get out in 10 to 20 years, and that’s that, while your person lays in a graveyard, never getting up again to do anything,” Benton's mother said.
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