“The rally is because people are tired," said Ashley Winkfield, a member of the Omega Iota chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. "Every week, every day, there’s a new name."
"If it’s not happening in Baltimore, it’s happening in Detroit. If it’s not happening in Detroit, it’s happening in Durham. If it’s not in Durham, it’s happening in Chicago. It’s just exhausting, and so this is an opportunity to voice that frustration.”
Members of the march spoke about how the rioters in Baltimore were misrepresented by the media as looters.
"I’m so tired of us being victims without doing anything wrong," said Mariah Monsanto, who graduated in December 2014. "People are upset that they're destroying buildings and CVS and stuff, but literally, they do not feel like that’s part of their community. If you’ve noticed, no black-owned have been destroyed because that’s their community. Community isn’t about buildings and broken windows. It’s about people.”
Winkfield said the Baltimore riots are indicative of much greater problems in the community that had built up for decades.
"In Baltimore there’s lot of issues where people don’t have access to healthcare, don’t have access to education, don’t have access to a lot of things that they need," Winkfield said. "When they say people are looting, people aren’t looting like TVs and stuff. People are looting toilet paper and socks and medicine, basic things that they need but don’t get."
Ashley Harris, an organizer of the march, critiqued the media's coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement, saying it was focused only on men.
"It is not just men who are black," Harris said. "There are trans black women, there are queer black women. All black lives matter."
Marchers held signs with the names of victims of police brutality, including Mya Hall, a trans woman who was killed by police in Baltimore. Marchers said they hoped to take this as an opportunity to raise awareness about the murders that were not covered in the media.
At Peace and Justice Plaza, student activists spoke about the struggles of going to school while fighting against white supremacy and watching police brutality in cities across the United States.
Raymond Blackwell spoke about the pressure of being a black man, saying he feels he has to behave perfectly in order to avoid public scrutiny.
"It's not enough to go to college, Martese Johnson showed us that. It's not enough to be a professor at Harvard, Henry Louis Gates showed us that. It doesn't matter," Blackwell said. "You have to be perfect. Look at Freddie Gray. The knife he had was legal, but he still died."
He said the questions people are asking in Baltimore are just as relevant to Chapel Hill.
"When people say, 'What does this have to do with Chapel Hill?' Look at Duke," Blackwell said. "One month ago we saw a noose on Duke's campus."
Omololu Babatunde, a senior, said she sees a direct connection between the organizing on UNC's campus and the organizing that has occurred in major cities this past year.
“All the organizing that’s been going on this semester is completely in relation to Baltimore and Ferguson and Cleveland and spaces where black lives have been said to be valueless," she said. "When your students reach out to you telling you they feel unsafe, you shouldn’t devalue that or even be able to speak on it because that’s their lived experience, that’s their fact.”
Members of The Real Silent Sam Coalition carried a banner that read "Hurston Hall," which is the name they would like to see replace Saunders Hall. Supporters of Hurston Hall said they believe there are parallels between the problems in Baltimore and the way UNC's administration has responded to their calls to rename Saunders Hall.
"If you have the facts that black people feel uncomfortable because Saunders was a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, and you still don’t want to change the name, then you literally do not care about 12 percent of your population at UNC," Monsanto said. "You’re saying that this man, who made it his job to terrorize black people, is OK to still be on this campus when you have black people on this campus. To me that says I’m here for a diversity number, not because you really want to further my education.”
One of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Bob Zellner, was attending a panel on the Civil Rights Movement when he heard about the march. He said he was proud of the young people leading the movement in Chapel Hill.
“It’s the young people taking the lead, and that’s what Baltimore showed us," Zellner said. "Not only was it their young state's attorney who had the courage to bring the charges, but a young woman of color is the mayor. It’s been a real education for people in this country to say young people like this are not thugs. They’re the leaders of the movement.”
Babatunde said she hopes University leaders and activists can move the conversation around race forward.
“We are only standing here because of the work of our predecessors, and they had to ask a certain set of questions that then allowed us to enter into these spaces," she said. "But now it’s time for us to further those questions that they were asking. Now we’re in this space, and the questions we are asking include, ‘How do we make this space truly become a service to us?'"
As new leaders rise up in the #NotSafeUNC campaign and The Real Silent Sam Coalition, Babatunde said she is hopeful for UNC's future.
"My hope is that this spirit of contestation and dissent and resistance that has been growing these past couple of years at UNC will maintain so that we reimagine our university and decolonize our university," she said. "I hope we create a university where more people can exist and express themselves because that’s what we’re supposed to do at universities.”