We woke up that morning feeling like we were going to change the world.
It was my second week at Howard University and already, I’d started getting active in student government, jumping right into the role I’d seen for myself when I came to visit just 5 months before. I wanted to be a part of change. And so when I heard about how many of the Black students were being mistreated at Penn State University, I knew I needed to be on the bus leaving Howard to go protest.
That was the Howard spirit after all. Even while visiting and noticing the Greek organizations probating on the Yard and seeing the students playing games in the grass, I also noticed that there was a protest going on as well not too far away from that scene. In fact, the protesting element was always at Howard. It was a part of its legacy, and the students were proud of that fact.
So on the morning we were supposed to leave the school, I woke up with an air of expectancy. It was one of those mornings when you barely even needed an alarm because the excitement woke you up. This was a good thing since I needed to wake up before the sun in order to make it to the bus on time. I quickly showered and dressed, then found myself debating on what shoes I was going to wear (per usual). “Well,” I thought, “we’re protesting… so it makes sense to wear comfortable shoes.” Problem was, I didn’t have many of those!
After careful consideration, I finally picked out my Aldo fake-me out sneakers, as I called them. They were comfortable and kind of looked like a tennis shoe, but really weren’t. For goodness sake, they had velcro straps instead of laces, so it’s not like they were meant for doing much more than walking.
Either way, they were my final pick. I velcroed those babies on and practically skipped to meet up with my friends before boarding the bus. I was ready. I needed to take on this injustice occurring at a somewhat nearby campus.
When we boarded the bus and everyone had a chance to sit next to their faves, we finally heard from the HUSA president and vice-president, both reiterating the importance of why we were making this trip and thanking us for deciding to go on this journey with them. They spoke about precautions and how it was expected to be a peaceful rally, but that we should be prepared in case that changed. How we should be sure to stick together. And how they were proud to stand next to us in this moment.
I was over the moon. I’d certainly never done anything like this before. Sure, I was active in high school government, but traveling to another state to protest? Yea, this was new territory. But it felt right. And despite the precautions they gave, nothing was going to stop me from standing up for what I believed in.
We all settled in to our seats, getting ready for the 3 and 1/2 hour ride, some people taking naps, others choosing to play games with their fellow bus riders, and still others staring off into the windows (presumably thinking of the magnitude of the moment). I was doing a combination of the last two while tapping my shoes on the floor nervously when my phone rang, startling me from my thoughts of us and what we were headed to do.
“Hello,” I said, answering the phone.
It was my mom.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Just calling you to see how you were doing. What are you up to?”
“Oh, just on a bus, heading to Penn State to protest the way they’ve been treating their Black students.”
I did kind of say that to her like it was nothing. Like I didn’t know how my mom’s brain operated and that all she could see now was her little 18-year-old daughter being dragged away by police for inciting a riot with a protest.
“Mom, it’s okay. It’s going to be very peaceful,” I said, trying to calm her.
“Okay,” she replied. “But you do know it’s your second week there, right? Most students are still partying or trying to figure out how to manage their class load… and you’re…”
“Mom, I promise. It’s going to be okay. I have on velcro shoes… how bad could it possibly be when I have on velcro shoes?”
I was attempting to lighten the mood and calm her down.
“You’re right, you’re right. Velcro shoes don’t exactly scream violent person.”
“No, no they don’t.”
We both laughed, and I was happy she’d calmed down.
We soon finished our conversation, and I went back to half-listening to my group of friends sitting next to me. Mostly, I just anxiously waited for the moment we would step our feet off the bus and show that we were standing in solidarity with our peers.