GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — In mid-September, Raymond King was returning to his on-campus apartment when he found a note on his door that read "Go Home F*** N***." King was shocked, he said. So were others on campus at Aquinas College.
Wednesday, they held a solidarity march in response to that incident and all racial injustices.
“It’s really good to see that Aquinas takes any racist acts seriously,” King said. “And, that they are willing to not only publicly dispute that but also involve every organization on campus to rally up against racism.”
Hundreds of students and staff marched from one side of the campus to the other. They held Black Lives Matter signs and wore shirts expressing the same sentiment, while shouting "No Justice, No peace."
“These are young people that think outside of their own skins,” said president Kevin Quinn. “For them to be as aware of some of these social issues as they are and taking actions to do something about that, that’s exactly what we want them to do."
Quinn said he couldn’t be prouder of the students.
Their stance against injustice falls in line with the school's history, founded by Thomas Aquinas and the Dominican sisters who advocated for inclusivity, he said.
“We have great kids here,” Quinn said. “I would love to say that it’s all because of what we do. But, in reality we attract wonderful young people who are thoughtful and serious.”
Like alumni and artist Jessa Challa whose artwork was on display in downtown Grand Rapids after the city erupted in riots in late May due to the death of George Floyd, she said.
“Afterwards with all the windows boarded up, our community wanted to show the stories and voices of Black and Brown people, their pain and their power, just stories about moving forward from those events, and making sure those voices were heard,” said Challa, who's also an activist. “I was picked as an artist to be a part of that.”
Challa said she was selected by the Lions and Rabbits Gallery and Element 7, a group of local Black and Brown artists, for the Windows GR project. She painted a picture of a brown-skinned superhero woman standing in front of a sun with a raised power fist symbol.
Later, it was purchased by students at Aquinas during an auction, said president Quinn. Challa didn't know and was surprised when she found out. Wednesday, it was officially dedicated to the school.
“It feels really great,” Challa said. “It’s exactly what I wanted to be doing with my art, to shed light on stories from voices that were going unheard and to make sure that those people were celebrated.”
The painting stood behind Challa as she spoke to the crowd during the rally at Cook Carriage House on campus, where the march ended.
King was in the crowd as she and others spoke. He was pleased with the turnout. He hopes it sends a message of anti-racism and justice to everyone who sees it, especially the culprits behind the racist incident he endured on campus.
“Aquinas has made it pretty clear that there’s no room for this kind of hate [and] no room for any kind of disrespect,” King said. “Secretly they are watching all of this unfold and I really hope that they feel concerned that they’re not welcomed here. And, we are not afraid.”