Students at Johnson C. Smith University held a peace rally Friday to honor the life of Michael Brown, a young black man fatally shot Aug. 9 by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
Complete with prayer, speeches and a moment of silence, the rally was also an opportunity for students to remember one of their own, Jonathan Ferrell, who was shot to death by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer last September.
“We decided to organize because a group of students got together and we realized nothing had been done as of yet for Michael Brown,” said Akira Carr, a senior at JCSU who helped plan the rally. “We wanted to make sure we honored Jonathan Ferrell, too.”
Ferrell, 24, was shot 10 times by Officer Randall Kerrick while looking for help after a car crash. Kerrick has been sued by Ferrell’s family in federal court and faces a criminal charge of voluntary manslaughter.
“Jonathan Ferrell was actually a JCSU student,” said Dineo Seakamela, another senior who organized the event. “At the time he passed on we weren’t able to gather enough students to commemorate his passing.”
Seakamela said Brown’s death signaled an opportunity to commemorate Ferrell, who “was a brother to us.”
Students and other community members gathered on University Block at campus Friday evening. The rally opened with a prayer, and students had a chance to share their personal experiences and thoughts.
“It’s an opportunity for students and the greater Charlotte community to gather together and pay tribute,” Carr said.
Carr said even for students who haven’t experienced violent situations, the experiences of Brown and Ferrell are relatable. “A lot of people have been stopped and frisked,” she said. “And it gives us a chance to have a different conversation about violence as a whole – black on black, white on white, black on white and white on black.”
In addition to honoring two lives, the rally brought people together to address larger issues of race and violence.
“This is really just a conversation starter,” Seakamela said. “By no means will it ever be enough, but we want to start thinking critically about these issues and how we ought to deal with them as a community.”