In the wake of Smith’s death Saturday night, student groups dedicated to diversity planned the event in an attempt to continue the dialogue of Smith’s contributions to civil rights and humanitarian efforts across the state and country.
The National Pan-Hellenic Council, Black Student Movement, UNC’s NAACP chapter and Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs all had a hand in organizing the event.
“We planned it yesterday,” said Ashley Winkfield, a senior communication studies major who spearheaded the event.
“After hearing about the coach’s passing, I felt there was such a need to really understand who he was as a person and why he was constantly being honored on our campus.”
Trey Mangum, BSM president, opened the event by addressing the crowd of approximately 30 students and faculty.
Shortly after, students gathered in a semi-circle and read aloud the 10 leadership lessons from Dean Smith’s book, “The Carolina Way,” such as caring, commitment, servant leadership and discipline.
Taffye Benson Clayton, the vice chancellor for diversity and multicultural affairs and BSM’s faculty adviser, then took to a Carolina Blue podium in front of the flowers and letters left for Smith on Sunday and delivered a speech on Smith’s role as a leader for civil rights.
“Most of all, Dean Smith was a mentor,” Clayton said.
“And he was a friend to many. A principled and spiritual man, who brought his deep and abiding values to our campus, to our community, to our state and yes — our nation. And we are better for it.”
Smith pushed for integration at restaurants in Chapel Hill, recruited Charlie Scott — the first black scholarship athlete at UNC — and participated in sit-ins as part of his persistent demand for social equality.
“Honestly, after his passing, I heard so many things about him I didn’t even know,” said Jennell McIntosh, who is the president of UNC’s NAACP chapter.
“He was very active at integrating Chapel Hill as a town more than just the basketball team. So we were very excited to be involved with this vigil.”
In spite of the rain on Tuesday morning and windy winter weather, Winkfield, Mangum and McIntosh were pleased with the turnout for the event.
Mangum said he believes the vigil sheds light on Smith’s work off the court, which is important due to the multitude of controversial issues involving race on campus and throughout the country.
“I think it shed light to the fact that, especially with so many events locally and nationally going on like, locally, trying to rename Saunders Hall and, nationally, with events like Ferguson, the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown,” Mangum said.
“I felt like it’s almost calming to know that we had a person like this who fought so hard for civil rights at UNC. And since he’s gone now, it would be good to commemorate that.”