“Staying silent isn’t gonna do a damn thing,” Ayana Edwards said to a hushed crowd inside an overcrowded chapel in East Austin Thursday night.
Students of Huston-Tillotson University, a historically black college in Austin, and other members of the community were gathered at the university’s chapel to remember the lives of Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott, two black men shot last week in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Charlotte, North Carolina.
On Sept. 16, Officer Betty Shelby fatally shot 40-year-old Crutcher in Tulsa. Video footage from multiple police cameras showed Crutcher walking away from Shelby and toward his car with his hands raised above his head.
Shelby was charged with first-degree felony manslaughter Thursday afternoon.
Keith Scott, a 43-year-old black male, was shot by Officer Brentley Vinson. Vinson was immediately placed on administrative leave following the shooting, a standard procedure, but videos of the shooting have not been released by the police department. Protests following Scott’s death led to Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC) declaring a state of emergency.
The event at Huston-Tillotson, hosted by Black Lives Matter Austin, had more than 300 present and was shared with more than 1,000 people on Facebook.
Ashley Waring, a black female who spoke, emphasized the need for all communities to educate their children about the history of African-Americans, specifically speaking to members of the audience who were not black.
“The most important thing you can do with your children is tell them about our rich history,” Waring said. “America would not be what it is without them.”
Another Huston-Tillotson student in the crowd, Frederick Douglas Bailey, was greeted with cheers when he announced his name, harking upon his namesake, Frederick Douglass the abolitionist. Douglas spoke about his personal struggle with self-empowerment and how his education changed that for him.
“Being black is a constant reinforcement of not liking yourself,” said Douglas, a current student at the university. “If a freed slave can be educated, then the whole world is liberated.”
Douglas also pointed out areas of life that the black community were known for.
“When black people did well, America was better,” Douglas said. “Hip-hop, basketball. It was like a lay-up. We dunked it.”
A prevalent theme at the gathering was the question: What do they do next?
“One of the key things that we have to do with this anger, this discord, is to get involved,” said Tisha Christopher, a Huston-Tillotson alumna. “We need to be more involved in the political system. Everyone in this room should be registered to vote.”
The event concluded with a candle-lit walk of silence outside the school’s gymnasium after a call to action from one of the organizers, Jaylin Turner.
“I’m sick of people hashtagging and going out and doing nothing,” Turner said. “You can’t dismantle a system you don’t understand.”