A sea of white lights danced across the walls of the Pegasus Ballroom as more than 200 members of the UCF community raised their cellphone flashlights to commemorate the lives of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two black men who were shot and killed by police last week.
Wednesday night’s vigil was hosted by the Organized Coalition, a student-led initiative rooted in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The 20 or so Knights, including Joshua Thicklin, met for their first and only sit-down meeting just five days ago.
The 22-year-old senior and radio-television major said group members openly expressed their emotions before discussing their next course of action. Thicklin said it was meaningful to see UCF students as well as members of the university’s police department and administration gather in solidarity.
“The change has to start with us,” Thicklin said. “When I say ‘us,’ I’m not just referring to people of color.”
Dressed in all black, students and faculty took to a stage adorned with twinkling candles to offer heartfelt condolences, perform spoken word poems and sing uplifting musical pieces.
SGA President Christopher Clemente said it is not enough to tolerate our neighbors — we must love them as well.
“In times like this, we all speak as one,” Clemente said. “This means we must pray. We must hope. We must act to ensure that our brothers and sisters are safe and respected … Black lives matter at the University of Central Florida. Black lives matter in Orlando. Black lives matter in Florida. Black lives matter in this country. But all of that means nothing if we do not act like it.”
Belinda Higgs Hyppolite, the assistant vice president for student development and enrollment services, directed attendees to the place cards at their tables, which read “Let’s start the conversation!”
Students and faculty members shook hands with one another. Police officers embraced tearful students. Guests thanked one another for attending the ceremony.
During the 45-minute vigil, UCF President John C. Hitt addressed the crowd, asking them to rededicate themselves to respecting one another.
“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity,” Hitt said. “We want to recognize how each of us is unique. We want to talk about our common human dignity and to consider the strengths in our university community. Tonight, let’s foster a family of Knights. And tonight, let’s also say strongly, firmly and without reservation, black lives matter.”
For those seeking a comfortable environment to share their feelings and thoughts with others, a safe space talk will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday, July 15 in the Multicultural Student Center. The UCF community is also encouraged to seek out one-on-one sessions at Counseling and Psychological Services as well as Student Care Services.
Shana Medel is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Email her at ShanaM@CentralFloridaFuture.com.