Justice for Black Lives Virtual Vigil Calls on University Community to Take Action


Courtesy of Michelle Charles

Natalie Nwanekwu offers an expression of thanks on behalf of the Vigil Planning Committee.

Cate McCusker, Co-News Editor

On Friday evening, almost 1,000 members of the University community joined in to watch the live streamed event, Justice for Black Lives: A Vigil. The virtual vigil consisted of prayers, a period of silence and remarks by several members of the community, including students, members of Villanova Black Alumni and University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D.

Hosted by Campus Ministry and Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc. Sorority Tau Xi Chapter, the vigil was a collaborative effort brought about by a dozen offices across campus to “stand in solidarity for justice for Black lives, lament over those killed unjustly, amplify Black voices and activate a path toward transformation and justice on campus and in our communities.” 

Shortly after 6 p.m., the vigil began with a single candle illuminating the stage as pianist Caleb Lucky filled the room with music. At the end of Lucky’s piece, a pre-recorded video of Dr. Terry Nance, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, welcomed the audience to the event. Dr. Nance acknowledged the University’s communal debt to Native Americans, as the University is on Native American land. She stated Villanova’s commitment to learning about and dismantling all legacies of oppression. Referencing James Baldwin, Dr. Nance pushed students to work to end racism.

“There can be no justice until we are all conscious and passionately and purposefully enraged at the racism that has come to define our normal lives,” Dr. Nance said.

Following Dr. Nance’s welcome, Natalie Nwanekwu, a junior at the University and a member of the vigil’s planning committee, introduced the event and thanked all for joining. Nwanekwu expressed gratitude towards those who made the event possible, especially the Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc. Sorority Tau Xi Chapter and the Center for Peace and Justice Education, both of whom merged their own events with this vigil. She welcomed the first speaker of the night, Fr. Kevin DePrinzio, OSA, Vice President for Mission and Ministry.

Fr. DePrinzio reminded viewers that this vigil was being held on the feast day of St. Augustine and Villanovans are the “beneficiaries and stewards” of St. Augustine’s work. DePrinzio called on viewers to acknowledge not only the suffering in the community but also the cause of this suffering, as this is an essential part of the healing process. He explained that practicing vigilance, action, and accountability are essential to our Catholic and Augustinian identity and mission. He invited everyone to deepen the meaning of the shared CARITAS Commitment to include anti-racism.

Asheq Fazullah, a Muslim Prayer Leader, also mentioned the University’s CARITAS Commitment. Fazullah explained that some Villanovans have experienced the opposite of caritas and that this inequity “cheapens our commitment and dilutes our values.” Fazullah then quoted the prophet Muhammad’s statement of equality in his final sermon before offering the opening prayer.

Dr. Crystal Lucky, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Pastor of the Sword of the Spirit Church, then took the stage to lead viewers in eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence — the amount of time that George Floyd laid dying. Dr. Lucky asked viewers to use the strength of the late Congressman John Lewis and the hope of St. Paul’s words to reflect.

“Determine how you’re going to do the work that God, in his mercy, has given you to do,” Dr. Lucky said.

During the moment of silence, the names of many Black men and women who were killed by police brutality and racial violence from the beginning of 2009 to August 2020 in the United States were displayed on the screen. 

Sierra Thompson, senior and Vice President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc. Sorority Tau Xi Chapter, then introduced student and alumni speakers. Thompson explained that after each speaker, a bell would be rung to recognize the sacredness of their stories and to allow the audience to let these stories resonate within themselves.

“May these sacred pauses bear witness to the dignity of every human person and the experiences they carry,” Thompson said.

After Thompson, Idjatou Barry, sophomore and Real Chat Chair of the Black Student Union, approached the podium. Barry expressed the disconnection she feels with the University community and that there are not enough spaces where she feels comfortable. She explained that people need to be held accountable, reiterating that empty promises do not work. Barry expressed her hope that people actually care about Black lives and understand that this is not solely a trending hashtag. 

“Black people deserve better,” Barry said. 

Louis Manon, co-chair of Villanova’s Black Alumni, shared how he felt after watching the killing of George Floyd. He expressed how he was compelled to join others in marches in Philadelphia but broke down at the thought of having to risk his own and his family’s health and safety by marching during a pandemic so that people who look like him would stop being killed.

“For those who see these trying times as something that is temporary and something that needs to be put to rest so we can get back to enjoying life as normal, I ask you to recognize the privilege of being able to step away from the fray at any time and get back to enjoying your life,” Manon said. “As a Black person I do not have such a luxury, as I cannot tire nor fatigue with my efforts of preserving my right to exist, my right to equal justice and my right to equal opportunity.”

Danielle Burns, a current senior, explained her pain. She asked viewers what we, as human beings, owed each other and she called on them to take action.

“I do not ask for your sympathy, but for your passion and your energy,” Burns said.

Following a powerful prayer led by Pastor Craig Campbell, Qadir Ismail and Sanaa Barnes, junior Co-Presidents of The 13%, a club representing Black student-athletes at the University, both gave their remarks. Ismail expressed his exhaustion at the violence and trauma and reminded members of the Black community that it is okay to rest and recharge. He encouraged Black viewers of the vigil to collaborate with the Black community, stating that this organization is what the leaders of our country fear. 

Barnes shared her struggle of explaining racial injustice to her four year old sister. She stated that she will continue to fight so that her sister can grow up in a better world. Barnes asked everyone listening to continue to work to be the change they wish to see.

In DeVon Jackson’s remarks, he called on those who say they are allies to actually be allies. Jackson, a member of the University’s Black Alumni, challenged white members of the community to fight against stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.

“To ally is to also lean into discomfort,” Jackson said. 

Referencing the University’s motto, he stated, “Go ally. Ignite ‘Nova. Go change.”

After poems read by 2020-2021 Philadelphia Poet Laureate and Villanova EMBA alum Trapeta Mayson, and before the vigil concluded, University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D. addressed the University’s Commitment to the Black community. Donohue explained that as a leader of this community, he must call on Villanovans to embrace what it means to be a unified community. He acknowledged where the University has failed our Black students and explained that we must better welcome and understand those members of our community. He charged Villanovans to take action, as all have the ability to change.

“I can implement all kinds of programs, but unless people are willing to go into those programs with open hearts and open minds, and are willing to open their ears and their voices, those programs will die like so many before them,” Donohue said.

He stated that Villanovans need to listen to and challenge each other to do better. 

“We need to be people that stop dreaming and asking for somebody else to do it,” Donohue said. “Villanova, stop dreaming and start doing.”

The Office for Mission and Ministry invites all members of the community to take up their mission by engaging in open reflection, conversation, and accountability about race and racism. A recording of the vigil and an anti-racism sign project can be found on their website.