First of all, I go to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. It's an ever-growing university about 3 hours from DC with over 15,000 residential students and 94,000+ online students.
It is both the largest private, non-profit university and the largest Christian university in the world.
Also, much like it's founder Jerry Falwell Sr., Liberty University is distinctly a Conservative university. In addition, it is mostly composed of White students.
Given recent events and the media coverage regarding Black Lives Matter, I was very curious to see how people would react to a student walking around a Conservative university with a Black Lives Matter shirt.
In all honesty, I thought I would get quite a bit of negative feedback for wearing the shirt. Based on social media interactions, my theory was that more people at this Conservative university would be openly against it than in favor.
Surprisingly, I got much more positive feedback than negative feedback!
The majority of negative feedback I got for the shirt came in the form of eye-rolls, avoidance, and even a few "death glares" (when someone looks at you as if you did something terrible).
Some of the bigger negative feedbacks I received were through jokes and sarcasm.
One person saw the shirt and "jokingly" stated, "Aww, we can't be friends now, dude." Another said, "Of course you would wear that shirt (I am a Latino and he was alluding to my minority status)." One friend even stated that he would have burned the shirt had he known about it.
Surprisingly, no one brought up AllLivesMatter which I consider a good thing.
To my surprise, quite a lot of students actually gave "small" gestures of approval. From an "I like your shirt" to even thumbs up and a high five.
Others were more lively about it. One girl saw the shirt and stated it was great to finally see someone step up for this cause and that she wanted a shirt herself.
Another person asked me about the shirt and after a brief conversation said that he agreed it was time to stop and make this statement because Black people for the most part haven't been treated as if they matter as much as everyone else.
The Coincidence Turned Opportunity:
Time before I got the shirt, I had planned to meet up with a close friend of mine for dinner. Coincidentaly, that day ended up being the one I wore the shirt (which was the day right after I got the shirt in the mail). Also coincidentaly, my friend (who is White) wants to go into law enforcement to be a cop.
We met up for dinner like we planned and it was clear that he saw the shirt and was rather shocked at first, but made no mention of it and so we went on normally.
As we are catching up after such a long while, he indirectly brings up the subject referring to "all that's happening in the US right now".
That sentence lead to 2 and a half hours of one of the most open-hearted conversations I have had the priviledge of having with someone. We didn't argue or fight, we didn't even get defensive (which is hard not to do when two opposing views collide). Instead, we both looked to understand and try to empathize to each other.
I started by asking what he thought about all that had happened and what he tought was the problem. He opened up as a friend on the concern of wanting to be a good officer and at the same time of being threathened and having to defend himself.
He then asked what I thought about it. I explained that as a minority (Latino) I know what racism is like and I gave him examples of how fellow student and myself have to deal with it often, even at Liberty.
I'll probably write another article on this conversation because it was so packed. In the end, we both saw some flaws and weaknesses on both sides and in the way we work as a society in general. But we were able to see eye-to-eye in the end.
The key was that we were both able to put aside our assumptions through taking the time to understand each other and empathize with each other's situations. We left as stronger friends than before and encouraged.
The Big Encouragement:
Not 6 minutes after my 2 and a half hour-long dinner with my friend I walked into the library and was signaled down by a girl.
I found it odd, but when I walked up to this young White girl her eyes were glowing. She said that it was the first time she saw anyone on campus with a shirt like mine and that she found it very encouraging to see that I was stepping up for a cause I believed in.
Her first question was why did I wear the shirt or what does Black Lives Matter mean to me.
She admitted that she doesn't really know where she stands on the subject. She continued to tell me about what she was seeing from her friends and social media against it while also recognizing that something bothered her about it all. She was realizing that there was a real problem that wasn't being properly adressed.
She wanted to learn more. After learning about my Latino background and hearing of both my testimony on the subject and part of the conversation I had with my friend a few minutes earlier her face changed.
It was as if she had been shown a different side of the situation she had not grasped before. A face of. "How did I not see this before?" More importantly, she could empathize with what I was saying.
We both left very encouraged from that 30 minute conversation. She stated she was encouraged because she was able to understand the root of the problem from a first-hand experience and I left encourage because someone decided to talk and understand.
What I Want You To Take:
I had an entirely different expectation of what would happen that day. I expected negative reactions yet I left more encouraged and hopeful than when I ordered the shirt.
One thing I want to highlight before I finish is that I noticed a majority of White students had positive reactions rather than negative ones.
This, in addition to the previous two conversations, gives me hope that people are realizing that there is a problem and that we should address it.
Who knows how many other conversations got started on the subject because someone saw the shirt...
Nevertheless, I learned is that there is hope for change and we can be a part of it.
Start the conversation, be the difference.