Taking a stand

Ferris students criticize administration for not fulfilling university core values of diversity and collaboration

The university is not taking the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement seriously in Byron Brooks’ eyes and it’s something he wants to change.

Brooks is a Ferris honors student and the Social Justice Programming Coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Student Services (OMSS). He has been a crucial part in bringing attention to the movement in the area. This past June, Brooks organized the BLM March in Big Rapids.

Byron Brooks leading protesters at Black Lives Matter march in Big Rapids June 3, 2020. Photo courtesy of Will Holden

It a time when predominantly white institutions across the state and nation are responding to widespread protests calling out police brutality and anti-Black racism, members of the Ferris community are encouraging the administration to hold itself accountable for what they see as its weak and limited support of the BLM movement.  

“If we’re being honest, what have they done?” Brooks said “I’m personally still waiting for a statement from the university simply stating, ‘Black Lives do in fact Matter.’ It is well over time our institution, an institution that was founded on the principles of collaboration, diversity, ethical community, excellence, learning and opportunity, transform its err into action.”

Brooks said he fulfilled his promise in getting the Mayor of Big Rapids, Police Chief, City Commissioner and others talking about the injustices that surround Black people today.

“I have established a city wide Social Equality Initiative and I am confident that through this initiative we are on a good track to dismantling systemic racism and promoting social equity within the city of Big Rapids.”

Along with this march Brooks also led dozens of other protests across the nation including the recreation of the Selma March in Bel Isle, Detroit, as well as an address at Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. 

“As an activist myself, I understand that change will not be immediate. It may take many generations to finally arrive,” he said. “I believe that we are the change of which we seek. We all have a purpose and I believe that although our purposes may be unique, I feel that God still equipped us with something within ourselves that is meant to help better society as a whole, and it is our duty to utilize our purpose.

“There is an activist lying dormant in many of you reading this today. Ignite that flame of change.”

A national diversity survey ranked Ferris as one of the lowest in the country, with only 21% of students being minorities during the 2018-2019.

Ferris senior and student assistant at OMSS Jasmin Wynns feels that the BLM movement has been around for an extensive amount of time and Ferris should have been standing in solidarity with the BLM movement when Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Micheal Brown and many others had their lives taken by law enforcement. 

“Ferris should do just as much, if not more as the Office of Multicultural Student Services when it comes to understanding how to deal with the police, how to respond when being pulled over and how to deal with racial tension,” Wynns said. “I have seen flags and informationals about other social issues in communities but there are little to no displays that show support to the Black Lives Matter Movement.”

Assistant Director of OMSS Darnell Lewis said, “These discussions can be hard. I met the owner of Kilwin’s downtown and she was shocked to hear about racism Ferris students have faced in the Big Rapids community and wanted to start having these discussions.”

He said that there was recently a virtual discussion about “Knowing Your Rights,” which engaged  students and faculty in a long discussion that left some in tears and others sending “thank you’s” to the OMSS office for exposing them to social injustices they were not aware of. 

The OMSS office has assembled a panel of members from the Detroit Civil Right and Inclusion Department who will be speaking about “Black Votes Matter” on Oct. 7, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom. You can follow OMSS event updates on Facebook and Instagram @fsuomss.