A large crowd gathered outside OU’s Evans Hall on Saturday afternoon in honor of George Floyd, a black man killed by police in Minnesota last week.
The event — which began at Norman High School — traveled down Main Street and University Boulevard until participants such as OU President Joseph Harroz, former head football coach Bob Stoops, women’s gymnastics coach K.J. Kindler and others found themselves on OU’s North Oval, listening to the encouragement of community leaders outside the historic university building.
Saturday wasn’t the first time recently Evans Hall had been the sight of a peaceful protest — and more specifically the place of a demonstration against racial injustices plaguing the black community.
In February, OU’s black student community and Black Emergency Response Team hosted a three-day sit-in within the walls of that same building.
Their demands for justice came after two instances in a span of two weeks, when a professor used racial slurs during class.
The first occurrence was journalism professor Peter Gade’s use of the N-word in comparison with the phrase “Ok, Boomer.” The second instance was history professor Kathleen Brosnan’s use of the word while reading a historical document.
Saturday’s protest bore a similarity to February’s events, as members of OU’s black community once again gathered at Evans Hall, demanding justice for the death of Floyd and others, as well as respect for black lives.
OU Student Government Association President Justin Norris released a statement of solidarity following the instances of racism on campus in February. Saturday, he continued to show his support for his fellow black students by participating in the march and providing water and masks for participants with funds raised from the OU Student Government Association for Black Lives Support Fund.
“Obviously a lot’s been going on, so it’s been good to see (this demonstration) in our own town where we’ve had our own history on campus of racial issues, as well as in the city of Norman,” Norris said. “I’m here because I’m a black person and I feel like I’m not only supporting myself, but I’m supporting all my brothers and sisters.”
Norris wasn’t the only prominent member of OU’s black community present. Football safety Justin Broiles and women’s basketball guards Ana Llanusa and Ashlynn Dunbar were among those who spoke to protesters outside Evans Hall, using their platforms to empower the Norman and OU communities.
Broiles, who participated in a Black Lives Matter rally in north Oklahoma City May 31, said he continues to appear at protests because he believes it’s God’s will for him to use his voice to enact change.
“It’s not right in America, and God’s blessed me with this platform to inspire others and encourage others and to make change,” Broiles said. “Not only for football … or to just chase their dreams, but for what’s right.”
As Broiles and his fellow athletes shared their thoughts with a racially diverse crowd the size of which they said they didn't expect, there was one message that continually prevailed — hope.
Llanusa said she was encouraged by the number of protesters and believes Saturday’s events were a step in the right direction in mending the deep divisions caused by racism.
“I talked to (Broiles) and my teammate Ashlynn (Dunbar) and we weren’t even expecting this many people out here, let alone this many other ‘racist’ white people,” Llanusa said. “We didn’t expect that, and so it’s big to see that and it’s very hopeful.”
OU Black Student Association President Erin Palmer, a co-organizer of the march, said she was also optimistic about the day’s events as she stood on the steps of Evans Hall while the enormous crowd dispersed.
However, as Broiles and Llanusa echoed, Palmer said she acknowledged the event she helped build must not be the end of the fight against racism.
“Racism on campus will never be undone with one march, one protest,” Palmer said. “These things can’t be fixed, but marches like these help shed light on the issue and hopefully continue momentum as well because it doesn’t stop here.”
While marching down University Boulevard, carrying his cardboard sign with the message “Stop Killing Us,” Norris best summarized the full impact of the protest.
“I think it’s important for the OU community to see this and experience it to know that issues of racism — even though they may happen on our campus — have repercussions that are felt nationwide,” Norris said. “And so to be able to see what is now a national issue come back to campus, I think it really shows that we all play a role in making our world a better place.”