Editor’s note: This article contains stories of those impacted by racism, death and police violence. Sensitive content may follow.
On the fourth night of the Ames Black Lives Matter (BLM) Homecoming, members of the Ames and Iowa State community honored those who have lost their lives or have been impacted by police violence.
Poni Lejukole, an Ames BLM leader, spoke to approximately 30 people at a candlelight vigil Thursday night. The group was gathered in the Maple Shelter at Brookside Park.
“I just want you to know that I don’t really want you just to focus on the sadness of it,” Lejukole said. “I want you to feel something — a drive, a hunger, a hope of some kind. We don’t want this to happen forever. We’re always hoping for a ‘someday’ — maybe we won’t be alive now — to see it. A ‘someday’ where we don’t have to mourn like this. We don’t have to get together like this for a death that was unjustified.
“We don’t have to teach kids about racial discrimination and be like ‘this might kill you over the course of your life — we don’t know,’ and so that’s why we’re here. So please [...] think with an open heart and think with a higher purpose for justice.”
Iowa House Rep. Ross Wilburn spoke about his experiences with racism and microaggressions as a Black man and political leader. Wilburn was the mayor of Iowa City and a gubernatorial candidate before he became an Iowa House representative.
Wilburn is one of five people of color in the Iowa House of Representatives. He said a “particular group of people” sent the five people of color a postcard of a Klansman with a noose that said “lynching is for amateurs.”
“I’m sitting in the State House with a golden dome,” Wilburn said. “My four other colleagues and I, this is something we have to face — even as an elected [official].”
Iowa House Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell also attended the event.
Steven Waddell, an academic adviser for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Iowa State, also shared his story experiencing racism.
“The building that I work in is named after Carrie Chapman Catt who was a wildly racist white woman, right?" Waddell said. “The September 29th Movement started 25 years ago. I’m 26 years old and nothing has been done in order to change the name of a building of somebody who was wildly racist against Black [people].”
The September 29th Movement was led by a group of students who protested when Old Botany Hall was named after Catt. The movement’s efforts centered around advocating for the renaming of Catt Hall.
“For me, that is something I have to deal with every single day I’ve got to go to work,” Waddell said. “I’ve got my business card and right next to my name is her name, a woman who didn’t believe that I should be at this institution, let alone working for it.”
Candles were lit at 9:20 p.m. as Lejukole announced 29 names of people “the system failed.”
George Floyd, 46
Breonna Taylor, 26
Tamir Rice, 12
Tony McDade, 38
Philando Castile, 32
Ahmaud Arbery, 25
Botham Jean, 26
Trayvon Martin, 17
Michael Brown, 18
Freddie Gray Jr., 25
Eric Garner, 27
Sandra Bland, 28,
Vanessa Guillen, 20
Oluwatoyin Salau, 19
Summer Taylor, 24
LaVena Johnson, 19
Christopher Deandre Mitchell, 23
Ezell Ford, 25
Kenneth Ross Jr., 25
Atatiana Jefferson, 28
Ryan Twyman, 24
Oscar Cain Jr., 32
Dominique “Rem'mie” Fells, 27
Aura Rosser, 40
Cornelius Fredericks, 16
Stephon Clark, 22
Aiyana Mo'Nay Stanley-Jones, 7
Abdi Sharif, 18
Breasia Terrell, 10
“We are talking about people who have passed, we are talking about death and we are talking about injustice and that can be hard,” Lejukole said. “Please just don’t think about the sadness. Think about why we are here, what we are doing, why we’re marching, why we’re protesting, why we’re screaming. Think about the Des Moines protesters who have been arrested for no reason in their homes.”
The group had a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds — in memory of George Floyd.
“This is not just a moment in time,” Lejukole said. “This is a movement. If we’re here and we’re in it, we’re going to be in it for a long time. And we have to start getting comfortable with that. But also we have to start realizing that the things that we are experiencing are traumatic. They are painful. And we thank you for being here and thank you for supporting us and we thank you for protesting — we thank you for all of it.”
Ames BLM will be hosting more events during the week to build engagement in activism at a “major” level, according to their Instagram post.
Combined Protest + Block Party — 5 p.m. Friday
Holistic Healing event, centered around mental health and movement — 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday
All locations will be announced on the Ames BLM Instagram page.
“Keep having these names resonate in your brain, resonate in your mind,” Lekujole said. “Think about justice. Actively think about justice. Cause it’s not over yet. Even here in Ames, they think it’s over — it’s not over yet. Wendy doesn’t know. Wendy has no idea. Right? We’re all just a small part in a bigger picture [...] just know we’re not alone. We’re still fighting, we’re still going.”