Joshua Ellis goes to high school more than 1,000 miles away from Jena, La., but when a "blatantly racist" incident occurs anywhere, he said, it impacts people everywhere.
The 17-year-old senior at St. John's Jesuit High School spent yesterday afternoon at the University of Toledo supporting the six black teenagers - also high school students - from Jena who were charged with attempted murder for a fight with a white classmate.
"Often we feel we don't have a voice," he said. "One finger by itself, you can just point up. But when you have five fingers, you can make a fist and do something about it."
Joshua, president of St. John's African-American Assembly, was one of hundreds gathered outside the Student Union on UT's main campus for a student-led rally and march in support of the "Jena 6."
Many shared the view that the charges against the Louisiana teenagers were too harsh and that there were no consequences against those who hung three nooses from a tree on school grounds, which is blamed for fueling the incident.
"This shows that students do care about issues going on in the world," said Kieron Richardson, 20, president of UT's Black Student Union who helped coordinate the Toledo event.
"This is for people to stand up and say this is wrong, let's do something about it," the junior majoring in communication said. "There's strength in numbers."
The rally included speeches from several people active in the campus community before calling up members of the audience to speak their minds.
Derek Ide, 19, a Lourdes College student and member of the International Socialist Organization, spent the most time at the podium. He told the crowd that it's important to take a stand when you see an injustice.
"The power to change society is in our hands, and it always has been," he said.
A member of the audience, Sherita Evans, 25, of the Old West End, livened up the crowd when she took the microphone and declared that "black is beautiful."
"We are treated as second-class citizens - not today," she said, adding that they need to be outraged by the disparity in Jena.
Ms. Evans, who has lived in Toledo for 16 months, said she was motivated to lift up the self-esteem of the community to help it step up against racism.
"Racism is a sore, it's a disease, it's a cancer, and it has infected America," she said. "And if we don't learn from history, we're doomed to repeat it."
The UT event concluded with a march across campus with chants that included "Schools and nooses just don't mix, justice for the Jena 6" and "Gay, straight, black, white - same struggle, same fight."
Kay Crenshaw marched for her son, who is in prison for a local racially motivated incident, and in support of appropriate punishments for juveniles convicted of crimes.
Her son, O'Lajidai Crenshaw, was ordered to serve eight years in prison for his role in the North Toledo riot on Oct. 15, 2005, that was fueled by a planned neo-Nazi march through the mostly black neighborhood.
Crenshaw, who was 17 at the time of the riot, was charged as an adult for looting and setting fire to Jim and Lou's Bar on Mulberry Street.
"Jena is not an isolated incident," she said. "I'm not excusing the criminal behavior, but the punishment has to fit the crime."
At Bowling Green State University yesterday, the Black Student Union organized a rally to raise money for the Jena 6 Legal Defense Fund.
It has had a table set up in the Student Union since Tuesday and collected about $450 yesterday, said Starmisha Conyers-Page, 20, president of the student group.
A core crowd of 50 to 100 students spent the afternoon at the rally and participated in the chants and sharing of knowledge, she said, but too many people just walked by and avoided the group.
"We didn't want people to be ignorant because if you know about it, we hope they'll want to do something," she said.
The recent national attention should get people to start thinking about the impact of racism, she said.
More than 75 students at the University of Findlay yesterday signed a petition in support of the demonstration that was held in Louisiana.
Willie Hall, 44, a former Monroe County NAACP president, was in Jena yesterday and said the atmosphere was indescribable.
He was one of thousands of people who flooded the small town for the demonstration there that remained peaceful despite the emotionally charged issue.
"It's one thing to march. But to understand and to see what people are feeling and what they're going through, it's something else," he said by telephone.
There were some instances of negativity from residents of the town, but most of them were in support of the movement, Mr. Hall said.
"You hate to label a town or a whole city by the acts of just a few, and those few have given this town a black eye," he said. "This issue should have been addressed a long time ago and you can feel that tension.
"When everyone's gone, when the march is over and everyone goes home ... the real challenge will be what will the people of Jena do."
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