Story by Josie Gonzalez, reporter
Photo courtesy Josie Gonzalez
In late August of 2020, the Aquinas College Student Senate purchased two pieces of art from WindowsGR, a local coalition that supports influential BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists. The artwork was previously placed in downtown Grand Rapids to cover damages made during the historic 2020 Black Lives Matter protests this past summer. The paintings were purchased in order to show support for Black Aquinas students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members.
After looking through many paintings by local artists, artwork by Amanda Fairbanks (@abanx.art on Instagram) and AQ alum Jessa Challa (@jessaart) were chosen. Fairbanks’ painting, called “Daddy Changed the World”, depicts a young Black child sitting on a tree branch, placing a star in the night sky. Challa’s untitled painting shows a strong, Black woman superhero raising the Black power fist.
Once the art pieces were officially purchased, a committee met several times throughout the month of October to plan a dedication event. This committee consisted of representatives from the Student Senate, the Advantage Center, AQ Men’s Basketball, CDI&E, Campus Ministry, and the Student Activities & Orientation Office.
Together they planned the Solidarity Matters: Anti-Racism March and Art Dedication.
On October 28th, the march began at the St. Thomas Statue and ended at the Cook Carriage House. With a banner stating “Solidarity Matters” at the front of the crowd, students were heard chanting “No justice, no peace” and “Say her name, Breonna Taylor”. Attendees held signs in support of Black Lives Matter, remembering the many lives lost to racial injustice.
For the art dedication, Senate Chair Hannah Lashbrook and Vice Chair Josie Gonzalez opened the event and introduced Roschard Watkins and Justin Lary, representatives from AQ Men’s Basketball and emcees. Students and community members then heard a blessing from Father Bob Keller, and testimonies from some attendees. These were delivered by current student, artist, and activist Edwin Anderson (@studiosmoov), artist and alum Jessa Challa ‘17, and VIBE (Voices Inspiring Black students Everywhere) president and RA Mikaila Thomas.
“Black Lives Matter is more than a movement. It is an awareness,” Challa said in her testimony speech. “It’s an affirmation and a mindset we all can use to transform our society as we all strive for equality and justice.”