Positivity took precedence over politics at the Black Lives Matter vigil at Dixie State University Thursday.
Joyce Gray, the keynote speaker at the event, didn’t mention “black lives matter” once during her presentation, and instead focused on her experience chasing her dreams. Following Gray’s presentation in the Gardner Student Center, audience members rallied at the outdoor amphitheater on campus, lit candles, and listened to students share poems and stories about unity.
A stiff breeze prevented the candles for being lit for long and 40-degree temperatures sent the students packing quickly, but Kendall Pitts, a junior communication major from Las Vegas and president of the Black Student Union, said the event was a good start for spreading increased diversity awareness at DSU.
“I just wanted people to see the positive light (of Black Lives Matter) — that’s it’s not just crazy riots and shootings, but it’s taking a stand when everyone else is afraid to,” Pitts said.
Gray was the first African-American principal in Utah when she was hired at Arcadia Elementary School in Taylorsville in 1984. She was awarded the Rosa Parks Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for breaking the color barrier in Utah public school’s faculty.
Gray said she didn’t know the event was centered around the Black Lives Matter movement when she came to speak.
“I was told to talk about positivity,” Gray said. “However, I think there is a close connection between the (Black Lives Matter) movement and with what I had to say about my life. I encouraged all students to remain positive and that all lives matter.”
Pitts said she wanted the vigil to be light on Black Lives Matter rhetoric because she wanted students other than African-Americans to relate to the messages shared. Although less than 30 people attended the vigil, she said she was shocked more people came to the event who were not part of the BSU than those who were.
“People need to understand that diversity is not just about being a minority or not being a minority,” Pitts said. “Diversity is about your culture, where you come from, your sexual preference — everything that sets you apart from someone else, which is why we had an open-door policy for this event.”
Daneka Souberbielle, director of the Multicultural Inclusion Center, introduced the Black Lives Matter movement at the event said the purpose of the vigil was to have a discussion about the black community.
“African-Americans in this country are experiencing disproportionate amounts of things,” Souberbielle said. “Some of those things include violence in communities, poverty and access to education… But there are also a lot of positive things that we don’t often talk about.”
Pitts said her goal in organizing the event was to simply spread cultural competence.
“We’re not saying that black lives are more important than another life,” Pitts said. “We’re basically saying that your life matters.”