By Philip Walzer and Harry Minium

About 300 people participated on June 11 in a student-organized March for Justice to protest the killing of George Floyd and other African Americans.

Old Dominion University President John R. Broderick and graduate student Mufu Taiwo, who planned the event, led walkers through Lambert's Point and around campus.

Taiwo, a former defensive lineman for the football team, is pursuing a master's degree in sport management. "I knew from an early age that people would look at me and judge me by the color of my skin and because of my size," Taiwo, who is 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, told the crowd outside Webb University Center. "How many times do we have to have those protests and see riots before we see change in our country?"

President Broderick said: "While we continue to send prayers to the Floyd family, that is not enough. I am joined by all of you to say again, 'Black Lives Matter' and also to say, 'No more' to the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others before them. Hate and prejudice have sadly continued, in part because it apparently takes a camera to fully capture an atrocity."

Johnny Young, associate vice president for student engagement and enrollment services, recounted his experiences as an African American father of two sons. After every killing, he calls or texts them with the message: "If you get into a situation with the police, live to see another day."

This time, one of Young's sons asked about his own experiences with racism, and they spoke for an hour. "I hope two or three generations from now, maybe sooner, that systemic racism is fruitlessly gasping for its last breath," Young said.

Taiwo said in an interview that he envisioned the march as a way for student-athletes to "use their platform and speak up for what they believe." During his playing days, Taiwo was a prominent advocate for the welfare of athletes in campus and national organizations, including the NCAA. He is also treasurer of the Student Government Association and has performed hundreds of hours of community service.

Participants in the march included about two dozen football players, other students, coaches, faculty and staff members, administrators and members of the community with young children. Lisa Smith, the rector of Old Dominion's Board of Visitors, also attended.

They walked down 43rd Street, Hampton Boulevard and 49th Street before ending outside Webb Center. Many held signs with messages including "Everyone vs. racism" and "This is what democracy looks like" and chanted Floyd's name, "No justice, no peace" and "Hands up, don't shoot."

At Webb Center, Taiwo told the crowd: "We're not saying Black lives only matter. We're saying Black lives matter as well."

Other speakers included Lesa Clark, the executive director of the Office of Intercultural Relations. "When I see you and millions of people across the globe rising to stop the poison of racism from spreading, I have hope, Monarchs," Clark said. "I have hope. You are the great generation."

Danielle Carter, the newly elected president of the Student Government Association, told the audience: "The only thing you can do wrong is doing nothing. If protesting is not your thing, get yourself educated on history."

Rhonda Harris, the assistant vice president for public safety at Old Dominion, took questions from the crowd. "This may be the social justice movement of our lifetimes," she said. "I appreciate your efforts. We're all in this together."

Pastor Josh Kelly of Wave Church gave the opening and closing benedictions. "God," he said, "I pray we would see people the way you see us, that we are all priceless."

President Broderick concluded: "We have a responsibility to ensure that this tragic death of George Floyd serves as the start of a historic turning point in our country, galvanizing long-needed changes to abolish racial injustice. I look forward to working side by side with our Monarch community as we build an even better and stronger bond of diversity and a more just society in the days and weeks ahead.

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