VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO) – In the last few months, there have been many conversations about racial injustices. We’ve also seen countless demonstrations demanding change. A new group at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion is hoping to continue those conversations and make changes.
Two weeks ago, hundreds of University of South Dakota Students and staff members came together for a Justice for Black Lives March.
A new student group — the Cultural Wellness Coalition — organized the march and the speeches that followed.
“We have the opportunity to be the model community of this is what we will and will not tolerate regardless what side that you fall on. We can be respectful, we can be on different sides of things and we can get things done,” CWC President Marcus Destin said.
CWC presidents Marcus Destin and DeValon Whitcomb say the need for this type of group has been felt for awhile. When George Floyd was killed they knew it was time to take action.
“With Minnesota being a neighboring state to South Dakota, it struck a nerve that hit pretty deep for us,” Whitcomb said.
Destin knows discrimination first-hand and the feeling of having to change his behavior to make others comfortable.
“I’m a big, black man. You’re not hiding that. So, for me, there’s looks, there’s things that people do. They lock their doors. You walk in Walmart, I have to take my hands out of my pocket. Before I walk in I put my hands to every camera and every aisle. I have to take my hood off, I have to put my hat on backwards so people can see my eyes. Take my shades off. These are extra precautionary steps I have to take in order not to end up in situations like a George Floyd situation,” Destin said.
Whitcomb is the captain of the USD football team — he’s also learned and experienced many of the same things as Destin.
“Mainly, one thing that I really want to push is just like letting the athletes of color know that you have a voice and always amplify it. Because at the end of the day, for me, myself personally, yes, I can be number 47 on the football team, I can be captain on the football team, you know, but at the end of the day I’m still a black man,” Whitcomb said.
They hope the CWC can be a place to not only teach people about those experiences, but to take action and make South Dakota a safer place for people of color.
“It’s just basically creating an inclusive and comfortable area for students of color and also faculty of color here on Vermillion’s campus and also throughout the community. So, it’s just creating a home for those who really don’t feel as if they’re home even though they should always feel like that,” Whitcomb said.
The organization is a diverse group collaboration.
“The CWC is not just filled with men of color. There are women of color, there are white allies, there are faculty advisors, we have different age ranges, we have everything in there in order so that everybody’s voice can be heard. So it’s about taking action when we can and where we can,” Destin said.
That action includes working with campus and community leaders.
“We’ve had a Zoom meeting with the Chief of Police here in Vermillion and so just being apart of that, trying to figure out what their process is. Continuing to have conversations with not just the Chief of Police but multiple officers and these one-on-one how can we be involved, how can we incorporate other programs that have the officers that may be new in town or still training. Actually going to communities and actually going and being in situations, sitting at tables with people so that they can hear the stories. So that they can break the cycle of things that have been just constantly done over and over again,” Destin said.
The CWC hopes to lead conversations and take action on many of the hard topics our country faces.
“We’re also still honing in on mental health and also sexual assault, sexual harassment and also a little bit of human trafficking. With us being in South Dakota, a lot of human traffickers they either prey around bars or also reservations too and we know there’s a lot of reservations within the South Dakota community. It’s just making sure that every voice is heard and really all of us just answering to the call that’s presented to us,” Whitcomb said.
Destin and Whitcomb say they have more CWC events in the works at USD and in Vermillion.