SFA Students and members of the Nacogdoches community gathered on June 2 in front of the official Stephen F. Austin State University sign on North Street in a peaceful protest for the Black Lives Matter Movement. The protest began around 4 p.m. and was organized by two SFA students via a private Facebook page. Students, faculty, staff and community members held signs with various slogans as cars drove by, as well as repeated a series of chants including “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice. No Peace. No Racist Police” and “Silence is Compliance,” among many others.
“We made a Facebook page in order to keep everyone aware and informed of where and when to protest because it is important to get out there and to speak up,” Vanessa Cameron, senior biology major from Dallas said.
After protesting in Lufkin and Nacogdoches for a few days with small turn outs, Cameron, along with Jair Frazzini, a sophomore film major from Austin, decided to create the Facebook page in hopes to get more people involved.
“[The page was] mostly to keep updates for the people that were already here, so we didn’t really put it out in public," Frazzini said. "It’s still a private page. "
"You have to be invited to the page, so it’s kind of like word of mouth,” Cameron said.
What started at about seven group members in the days leading up to the most recent protest, turned into over 100 members of the Nacogdoches and SFA community supporting the movement.
“I’m very happy with the way it turned out because it started off as just seven of us on Monday, and then today it looks like over 100 people, so that’s amazing that we’re all here together,” Cameron said.
Both Frazzini and Cameron felt the need to get people involved and show support. Both felt that although Nacogdoches is a small community, there are still people willing to show up and support the Black Lives Matter Movement.
“We wanted to show that we care and that we’re here for the movement,” Cameron said.
Frazzini also added that all they had to do was create the opportunity; and once people saw that a protest was taking place, they would come.
“We wanted to show that there [are] people willing to protest," Frazzini said. "We just [have] to put it out there."
Larrian Menifee, senior music education major from Galveston, was another student involved in spreading awareness about the protest that took place. After seeing a few people protesting by the SFA sign a few days prior, he used his social media platform to spread awareness of when and where this protest would take place and was able to reach hundreds of people.
“I saw a few people out here at the sign a few days ago, and I hadn’t heard about it until I saw that,” Menifee said. “I decided to link up with them, join their Facebook group and kind of get the word out there more.”
By using social media, Menifee has been able to come in contact with many people to talk about the importance of the Black Lives Matter Movement and what they can do to show support.
“After I started to really use my social media platform to reach out to people, I’ve [been able] to have really important conversations with people,” Menifee said. “People who wanted ways to use their privilege as a platform have been able to help do that, so it’s meant a lot to be able to make that impact on people.”
With protests happening in larger cities, Menifee originally felt that he could not do much to make an impact in Nacogdoches. But, after seeing others protesting and establishing those connections with SFA and community members, he saw that there was an opportunity to make a difference.
“I was feeling like I couldn’t do anything because I’m in Nacogdoches and I’m not back home or in a big city… but I knew a lot of people would be here,” Menifee said. “There’s staff here that work in Student Affairs and the Admissions Office, so I really do feel supported although I’m in Nacogdoches.”
Menifee stated that he feels both supported and heard now more than ever, and that people from all backgrounds are coming together to support this cause. He also feels that this protest is just the beginning of the positive changes that will take place within the African American community on campus and in Nacogdoches.
“I feel a lot more heard than I’ve ever felt before, and I feel like my community is a lot more heard than they were before,” Menifee said. “There is a lot of diversity even out here. I think there might be people who see something like this and might be motivated to know that it’s okay to be out of their comfort zone. [It's okay to] be around people that they might not normally be around and support people that they might not normally support actively and out loud.”
“I do think I’ll be seeing a lot more people willing to come out here and be uncomfortable for a bit for a good cause,” Menifee said.
When asked what the Black Lives Matter Movement meant to him, Menifee stated:
“I’ve always been told growing up that I was born with two strikes: one being that I’m male, one being that I’m African American, and I never really knew what that meant and how they go hand and hand with each other until all of these recent events and a lot of injustices that I’ve seen on social media. Being a part of something like this isn’t only for those people, but it’s also for myself and for the life that I’ve lived. It can be scary sometimes to live my life because of my skin color, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that Black Lives Matter doesn’t invalidate any other life or any other minority [or] any other person, but it’s a pressing issue that people should focus on.”
One SFA staff member, LaShirine Howard, was involved in leading the chants and making sure that protesters were keeping themselves hydrated and ensuring that everyone was participating in a safe manner.
“What we wanted to do is make sure we support this matter and support all of our students, but especially our African American students,” Howard said. “We had found out there was a post from various students all over different platforms for students to come out and peacefully protest today around 4 p.m., so we made sure to reach out to all faculty and staff, as well as give that information to our student staff."
Howard is a hall director for the Residence Life Department and is also a part of the newly established African American Faculty and Staff Union at SFA. Howard is an SFA alumna, who graduated with a Bachelor of Mass Communications and Media Studies in 2018 and is currently seeking a master’s degree in Student Affairs and Higher Education.
Faculty and staff members held a meeting via Zoom, relaying information of the protest that was to take place and discussed ways in which they could be involved.
“We also got some faculty and staff to bring out waters and Gatorade, as well as other students," Howard said. "And, we brought microphones to make sure that we say these chants and be unified for this cause."
Highlighting on the diversity of the participants of the protest, Howard believes that the support system for the Black Lives Matter Movement in Nacogdoches is strong.
“There are a lot of faces here that aren’t African American or people of color, so it’s exciting to see that this is the support system that we have backing us during this matter,” Howard said. “It’s an overwhelming experience to know that this many people understand the magnitude of how this feels for a person of color.”
While there have been small protests take place in Nacogdoches, both Menifee and Howard, since living in Nacogdoches, have not seen a protest as big as the one that took place.
“People are understanding and are willing to stand here with me to show, 'I don’t fully understand what you’re going through because I don’t have that in my background, but I’m willing to stand with you because I know it’s wrong,’ and that means a lot,” Howard said. “It’s an awesome feeling to know that there are faculty and staff here and students who are willing to stand out here in the heat with signs as long as they can to show this cause is very important.
Like Menifee, Howard feels that this protest is just the beginning of the changes taking place within the SFA and Nacogdoches communities.
“It is already changing a lot of students that are already here," Howard said. "It’s changing a lot of students that are seeing it on social media [and] even people who are driving by are being changed just by seeing that this is happening. It’s powerful to know that this is a forefront for many changes in a lot of different areas, so I am hopeful for the future. I’m hopeful for SFA to back this in a more positive manner and be out here with us.”
Not forgetting that COVID-19 has affected so many lives, Howard commented on how those involved in the protest took preventative measures to keep themselves safe, as well as others, and were still choosing to support a good cause.
“After what COVID did to people’s lives, there are students here in masks that are willing to stand next to each other and support no matter the cause because they know how important this is,” Howard said. “People will ignore the fact that COVID is still going on, but these students here are prepared, getting masks, making sure that they are protected in those ways but [are still] here for this cause because they know that it’s important.”
“We are safe here. and we are supporting each other," Howard said. "We’re at the front lines right now, so it’s really comforting knowing that this change is going to be pretty rapid."