In a time of constant division, unity can change the game.
That’s what Sarah Louis, a 20-year-old UF political science major, said. She and more than 100 others are expected to embody that unity at 11:30 a.m. Friday during a March for Freedom.
The Gator Chapter of NAACP organized the march as the final event of Unity Week, a series of events that began on Monday to support students protesting racism in America. Friday’s march from A. Quinn Jones Center to J.J. Finley Elementary School will commemorate Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.
As the co-vice president of the Gator Chapter of NAACP, Louis helped organize the week. The UF Black Leadership Council, a group of leaders from Black organizations at UF including the Gator Chapter of NAACP, put it together.
The chapter hosted voter registration opportunities throughout the week, as well as a virtual town hall with UF administrators. The events aimed to bring students together and empower them to speak out in their interest, though ultimately, no administrators participated in the town hall.
In the past, UF’s NAACP chapter put together a barbecue to celebrate Juneteenth, Louis said. This year, they wanted to use the occasion as a way to remind students that they are not alone and to encourage them to take action, Louis said.
“I think having Unity Week, no matter what community you are in, shows that solidarity, and how we have to work collectively to change anything that we deem unfit,” Louis said.
Mackintosh Joachim, the UF NAACP chapter’s president, said Unity Week can provide a sense of community for students at a time where COVID-19 safety measures have torn people apart.
“Everyone feels like they’re isolated with their own emotions,” Joachim said. “So Unity Week essentially is trying to tell people, ‘You're not alone.’”
While the march will allow students to stand together, Joachim said it will also make university administration more aware of student concerns about racism on campus.
Students have recently voiced their opinions on these issues at UF. Several petitions have surfaced, some demanding the school remove the names of racist figureheads from locations on campus.
UF President Kent Fuchs announced a three-part plan in an email to students Thursday outlining how the university will address racism and inequity on campus. He said the university will implement mandatory training on racism, inclusion and bias. They will also be reviewing historical monuments or names and removing those “that UF can control that celebrate the Confederacy or its leaders” and ending the university’s use of prison and jail inmate labor.
Louis said all students should participate in Unity Week to share how they feel and effect positive change.
“It doesn't matter your background, if you're a marginalized community or not,” Louis said. “If we band together as students and support one another, I think it will show students that we really can create change.”
Meghan McGlone contributed to this report.