Student Voices Lifted in Protest And Prayer


The voices sometimes were loud, sometimes plaintive, sometimes pleading, sometimes angry, all from students, faculty, and associates of Abilene’s three church-affiliated universities.

They joined the chorus of other voices across Abilene and the nation that have spoken in the same tones in recent days. All were spoken in the aftermath of the latest incident of police brutality against African Americans, this time the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

“It is time to believe the stories of the people around you,” Arlene Kasselman, an ACU speaker implored. 

Those stories are all too familiar and local students joined others in protest. Members of the Hardin-Simmons University football team joined marchers in downtown Abilene Saturday morning, students and chaplain Marty CashBurless led a candlelight vigil at McMurry University Saturday afternoon, and Dr. Jerry Taylor, founding director of the Carl Spain Center on Race Studies & Spiritual Action at Abilene Christian University, organized a rally Sunday evening in ACU’s amphitheater. 

Signs and T-shirt slogans were plentiful at the events: “Enough is Enough,” Just Mercy,” “Black Lives Matter” “I shouldn’t be fighting what my grandparents fought for!” 

At McMurry, five students were invited to come forward and read the names of people dear to them. A candle was lit for each person named. 

Then the names of the three latest victims of brutality were read–Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Each name was followed by, “Lord in your mercy,” to which the audience responded, “Hear our prayer.” A bell tone sounded for each person named. 

That ceremony was followed by 8 minutes and 36 seconds of silence, the length of time it took for Floyd to die with an officer’s knee pressing on his neck. The period of silence was followed by the Confession and Pardon led by student Jaden Jones. One portion read:

“Give us the capacity to see our siblings, those who are your children as well, that we may use our various gifts to provide resources in the strife and work for an equal and just world in your honor and glory.”

Julia Puac-Romero, assistant chaplain at McMurry, said a “Bowl of Tears” will be set up in Carleton Chapel in McMurry’s student center. The bowl will be filled with water with pieces of paper next to it. People will be asked to write “what’s on your heart” on a slip of paper and put it in the bowl. 

“It’s more of a spiritual act,”  Puac-Romero said.

All the events, including the marches, were spiritual acts. At ACU, more than a dozen speakers filled the space in front of the stone steps of the amphitheater: Orneita Burton, Dawne Swearingen-Meeks Osharye Hagood, Nathan Burrow, Darren Hagood, Bryce Gregory, Arlene Kasselman, Jeremiah Taylor, Dan McVey, Kelvin Kelley, Robert Lopez, Alisha Taylor, Douglas Foster and Taylor. The evening concluded with Samuel Cook, a voice professor at ACU, singing, “Someday We’ll All Be Free.”Before Cook’s booming voice concluded the service, numerous voices spoke as one–systemic racism in America must stop. 

“There are those who are hurting,” Burton, who is African American, said in opening the rally. “There are those who are lost.”

Meeks, who is white, reminded the audience, a mix of black and white, young and old, that we are one people. 

“God created one humanity,” she said. “We are all one blood–from one ancestor.”

She reminded those gathered that to be silent is to be complacent and that to be complacent is “to participate in the evil.”

Osharye Hagood, an African American, said America has become a land of well-off people addicted to comfort.

“We have sipped the syrup of pleasure,” she said, while ignoring those who are hurting. “Wake up, snap out of it.” 

Darren Hagood, a young black man, got the audience going with his opening comments that swelled to a fever pitch.

“Inhale, exhale,” he repeated three times. What you hold in your chest is divine inspiration.

“It’s the gateway between flesh and spirit,” Hagood said. 

Our breaths do not belong to America, he “preached,” as the audience began to join in.

“Inhale and hold it and don’t let go,” Hagood implored.


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