Students began to gather around 9:30 a.m. Thursday for the Jena 6 press conference held by Andrew Collins, president of Florida A&M University’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The press conference was intended to show the Tallahassee community that FAMU and Florida State University students supported the “Jena 6,” – six black students who were charged for beating another white student.
Over 30 students attended the event and no local media were present. Student leaders pursued their purpose, despite a lack of enormous support from students.
“It is up to us to make sure that our voice is heard,” said James Bland, 21, student government vice president. “It’s up to us to make sure that justice prevails with Jena.”
Bland beckoned for student support, asking all those listening to have compassion for the Jena 6.
“This is a testament to injustices not only in Jena, but across the nation,” Bland said. “It is a national issue.”
The Jena 6 have not only received support from the nation, but also from members of the music industry. Rapper Mos Def wrote a letter to rally support, while artists including Twista, Lloyd, Hurricane Chris and singing group Jagged Edge plan to host a benefit concert in support of the “Jena 6.”
Several Web sites such as http://colorofchange.org/jena, and http://freethejena6.org have been created in support of the Jena 6.
“We must make sure that we continue to show our voice,” Bland said. “We will be calling the Louisiana state office to ask for a pardon.”
Collins, 21, a senior business administration student, said “call bombings” began on the Florida State University campus at 10 a.m. Sakeena Gohagen, coordinator of the event, was unavailable for comment.
Seeking to motivate students at the press conference, Collins said, “I don’t want you to be discouraged that the press didn’t come out today. Students like you are in Jena right now.”
Some students believed that FAMU and FSU leaders should have mustered a higher level of local support.
“If it’s not posted around school, you can’t find out,” said Marshall Watson, 23, of Jackson, Miss. Watson, a senior healthcare management student and member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., passed out brochures at the “Sigma Plot” to educate students about the “Jena 6.”
“I heard about the rally today when I was talking to a colleague, and I didn’t even know what he was talking about,” Watson said.
In hindsight, Watson noted that the organizers of the rally should have used several methods to publicize the event and also spoken to leaders in several organizations.
“You have to get a lot of supporters,” Watson said. “When you’re unaware of things like that you can’t respond to it.
In response to the lack of publicity, Collins said “e-mails were sent out and meetings were held-[but] flyers definitely would have benefited.” He also mentioned that in the future, if the NAACP supports any events, more publicity methods would be used to ensure that students are informed.
George Burns, 19, a sophomore pre-pharmacy student, heard about the event through word-of-mouth.
“I felt that this was a prevalent issue in our community,” Burns said, “When something like this happens it doesn’t affect one of us, it affects all of us.”
Simply wearing black was not enough for Burns, a Tallahassee native. As soon as he heard about the press conference, he said he decided his presence was necessary to do whatever it takes for support.
“We need to make sure that justice is prevailed throughout the community,” Burns said.
Bland said charges have been lessened in the cases for some of the students. However two males still face charges of second-degree murder. Collins mentioned that although the charges for some students have been dismissed, District Attorney Reed Walters of La Salle Parish, has the option to pursue prosecution through the Supreme Court.
“Students do need to get involved,” Burns said. “It could easily happen here in Florida… you shouldn’t wait until it hits home to get active.”