A few hundred Brigham Young University students and community members met under the tunnel outside the Marriott Center on Wednesday evening and slowly walked to the Wilkinson Student Center holding candles for a vigil held in honor of Monday being Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The vigil was hosted by BYU’s Multicultural Student Services, a group that seeks to develop a campus environment “where multiculturalism can flourish,” according to its mission statement.

Flor Woodard, a sophomore at BYU studying elementary education who attended the vigil, said she likes to attend events held by Multicultural Student Services because they “get everybody together.” On such a big campus, students don’t always get the opportunity to see different cultural groups and perspectives, Woodard said.

Another attendee, Victoria Cooper, a Provo resident and BYU graduate, said the vigil serves as a reminder that she is in a “community that believes the same things” as her and shares her values.

“I think it’s important for the black community to know that there’s a space for us here at BYU, in Provo, in the U.S. and in the world,” said Cooper. “And I think that it’s amazing that people, regardless of race, can also celebrate that.”

The vigil featured musical numbers from the BYU Gospel Choir and awards given to three students in an “MLK Essay” contest. The fist place winner, Alixa Brobbey, a junior studying English, recited her essay, which was about her grandfather’s role in desegregating the Caribbean island of Saba in the 1960s, as well as the importance of civil rights activism today.

“In 2020, the cause of civil rights and anti-racism can seem … anachronistic and outdated,” said Brobbey. “It’s difficult to see injustice when it’s not labeled with a ‘whites only’ sign in front of our face.”

But the fight for civil rights and racial equality should not be viewed as being over, Brobbey said.

When Brobbey attended a protest against the police’s handling of the death of Jeremy Sorensen, a black Provo man who was shot and killed by a neighbor while he was physically fighting with a woman, she worried how she and other protesters would be perceived.

“I was scared that passerbys wouldn’t understand our cause and would grow alarmed at the sight of black youth congregating on the sidewalk,” she said.

The vigil’s keynote speaker was Kalin Hall, a former BYU football running back, who spoke about the power of nonviolent protest and “the belief and the passion that comes from being nonviolent and standing up (for) something you believe in.”

“There’s power in that,” Hall said. “Because, ultimately, anyone can get aggravated, anyone can get upset … but that’s not the right way.”

Hall said that BYU is increasingly becoming more diverse and that the school helped him become who he is today.

“I was supposed to end up in the streets selling drugs and finding myself in the place of no return,” he said. “But it didn’t happen like that, because I made a choice to come here.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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