Community members gather at UVU in vigil for Izzy Tichenor
Nestled underneath the pedestrian bridge by Utah Valley University’s Student Life & Wellness Center on Thursday night was a woven blanket. On the blanket rested a McDonald’s Happy Meal box, stuffed animals, candles — electronic and real — and a photo of Izzy Tichenor.
Dozens of students gathered there for a vigil in honor of Tichenor, a 10-year-old student in the Davis School District who died by suicide on Nov. 6, 2021. Two days later, her mother, Brittany Tichenor, held a press conference alleging that her daughter’s suicide was due to racist bullying at Foxboro Elementary School.
“Nobody has done anything,” Brittany Tichenor said in November. “This proves (school personnel) don’t know what a child is going through mentally, and a parent has to find their child hanging from a closet.”
The pain was palpable in the crowd. Standing in 27-degree weather, being handed hot cocoa and hand warmers, people wore looks of sorrow and anger.
The vigil was held in part by students from the Center for Social Impact, including Breanna Lambert and Priscilla Villaseñor-Navarro, both of whom are fellows from the center. The two are also from Utah County in addition to being UVU students — Lambert graduated from Lehi High School and Villaseñor-Navarro from Westlake High.
The two wanted to make sure school districts are aware that racist incidents happen everywhere, including in Utah Valley.
“When we heard the news of Izzy’s passing in November we saw a little bit of ourselves in Izzy,” Villaseñor-Navarro said. “When I was in high school, I actually got called slurs to my face and, at the time, I didn’t know what to make of it. I didn’t know what to think about it, I was so taken back. I also felt like I had no one to talk to about it.”
She added that her first racist experience in school that she remembered was in the third grade.
“There are students that are experiencing the same thing Izzy was experiencing every single day still and that’s the bigger issue,” Lambert said.
Sitting to the side of the microphone was Birttany Tichenor, sharing in the communal grieving of her daughter.
Darlene McDonald, an author and activist, spoke to the crowd about her experiences with generational trauma. McDonald told stories of her relatives — people who lived in the Jim Crow south and withstood threats from the Ku Klux Klan.
“We are passing along to a new generation of Black Americans another generation of trauma. And it must stop,” McDonald told the crowd. “We remember Izzy because Izzy is us. Izzy is all of us.”
In addition to the guest speakers, students performed spoken word poems and songs in her tribute.
Coming to the microphone after McDonald was Rae Duckworth, the chapter president of Black Lives Matter Utah.
Duckworth implored the crowd to keep one thought in their mind moving forward. She asked people to think about anti-Blackness and the effect it has.
“Anti-Blackness is the most disgusting, viral disease,” Duckworth said. “Anti-Blackness is not as visible as COVID is, but when it happens in front of you, you better do everything in your power to correct it. I’m not only asking you for myself. I’m asking you because I’m a mother. I’m asking you because Izzy has siblings. We have to correct anti-blackness as soon as we see it.”
She also spoke against the idea of colorblindness in society when it comes to race, adding that people shouldn’t avoid seeing color. People will see color, she said, and it should be acknowledged and respected.
People from across Northern Utah, students and members of the community alike, came to Orem for the vigil.
Stacy Bernal, the founder of Awesome Autistic Ogden, came down from Weber County for the vigil. As the mother of a child with autism, she was pained after first hearing of Izzy’s death and reached out to Brittany Tichenor.
“I hope that teachers and administration and educators, that they take a really good look at how they’re treating these kids,” Bernal said.
After the speakers finished, people were able to grab tea candles and to place them on the makeshift ofrenda left for Izzy. One by one, people of all ages and races left candles next to her photo. Tichenor also had a song play through the speakers as people placed their candles. The song, “Izzy” by Anita Davis, tells of the story of Izzy and what happened to her.
People were also handed flyers with actionable steps to take in the future, including listening to experts, attending and speaking at school board meetings and to donate to a GoFundMe raising money for legal fees.
While those gathered mourned and honored Izzy’s life together, there is not an end to the fight against the racism they say led to her death.
“We will not give you another one of our children to racism, to hatred, to bigotry. Not one more,” McDonald told the crowd.
As she spoke, a single voice came from the crowd to say, “Hell no.”