The Village Bandstand has been the centerpiece of many events in Alfred’s history, most recently the demonstrations hosted by Alfred for Racial Justice—a group that began these gatherings earlier this summer in solidarity with the mainstream Black Lives Matter movements.
Alfred for Racial Justice originally hosted a small group, but as time pressed on, where once there had been enough people to lightly spread the message, there grew a small platoon. Through August and now through September, on Wednesdays from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm, college and village residents alike take a stand against racial injustice and police brutality.
At the Village Bandstand, the demonstrations are open to anyone and they are encouraged to join for as long as they are able. The old picnic table serves as a place where anyone, be it a friend, neighbor, stranger, can grab a pre-made sign or make their own and join the demonstration. As the people began filtering in, it could be seen--from the residences dotting Main Street to the sister campus of Alfred State--that many fashioned their own
signs. Their signs, made from whatever vessel was on-hand, were decorated with the various mottos and mantras of the protests. Although the signs were eclectic, all were unified in the call to action. As one sign had said, “Bigotry will not go unchallenged.”
“If the protests could evolve into productive discussions about concrete policy changes that would support our students of color--conversations led by activists and students--that would be ideal,” explained Dr. Robert Reginio, an English professor and attendee of the protests at Alfred University. “Oftentimes, these activists are not dealt with as partners or collaborators who deeply care about AU, ASC, and Alfred. That has been profoundly disappointing. They would[n’t] continue to exhaust themselves for months on end if they did not care about our town and the two campuses. That dedication needs to be respected. They deserve a place at the table.”
Alfred for Racial Justice has expressed continued interest in getting Alfred students and neighbors involved in signing petitions, calling local and state representatives, voting, donating to bail-out funds or organizations, and shopping at Black-owned businesses as a start to everyday involvement in change.
“We’d love to see the creation of a community of anti-racists- whether you’re attending protests or doing the work on your own,” offered Alfred for Racial Justice, and then acknowledged, “Though numbers are a great way to measure success, the real impact in this movement happens when protesters work racial justice into their areas of expertise and help develop an anti-racist community and mindset.”
However, it is evident to all the activists and attendees that further work needs to be done. It needs to be opened into a broader conversation to include students from both campuses and the members of the Village.
“The BLM movement is forcing this kind of reckoning, getting us as individuals and as a society to pay attention,” said Dr. Melissa Ryan, an English and Social Justice professor at Alfred University. “And this is not just about policing—it’s on each of us to pay attention close to home, which for a lot of us means higher education generally and Alfred University in particular.”
Alfred is not exempt from the controversial nature of this movement, and therefore is in a unique position. Split between two ideologies that have come to a head, or are in the current trajectory to do so, it presents an opportunity for conversation and change to happen on the personal level.
“Changes at the local level can then build on up the line. People need to focus on local politics, support progressive candidates down-ballot. Forget the theater of national elections and listen to the lived historical experiences of those in your community,” proposed Dr. Reginio, who added, “I would say to AU students of color: a faculty group called the Anti-Racist Action Collective is working diligently along these lines.”
By Sam Sage
Photo by Piper Lilley