Content warning: This article discusses anti-Black violence.
Northwestern community members gathered to honor Tyre Nichols with a vigil on Tuesday night hosted by the Black Health and Wellness Collaborative (BHWC), a student-run organization focused on Black mental health and reversing stigma.
BHWC organized the Justice for Tyre Nichols Candlelight Vigil as a community event that would provide a safe space to pay respects and mourn those who have been lost to police brutality. Nichols died on Jan. 10, 2023, three days after being beaten by police officers, as seen in body cam footage released by authorities at the end of January. The vigil was held at Alice Millar Chapel.
“It was meant to be something cleansing and healing for the community,” Weinberg fourth-year Jem Feuilladieu said.
The warmly-lit atmosphere enveloped more than 100 attendees as they entered and took their place in the chapel. Bienen third-year Olivia Pierce’s guitar and BHWC board member and Weinberg third-year Joelle Moore’s acoustic cajón echoed through the room and encouraged a time for “centering” as noted in the vigil’s program, meant to guide people into a safe mental and emotional space.
Throughout the event, the BHWC focused on their goal to restore and support the community.
“We had an emphasis on spirituality, healing through creative expression and praying together,” Weinberg fourth-year Cammy Simpson said.
The event began with a land acknowledgement by Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and Assistant Professor of Instruction Kent Brooks, followed by a prayer from Rev. D’ana Downing, Assistant University Chaplain. The Black a capella student group Soul4Real sang “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” known as “The Black National Anthem,” written by James Weldon Johnson and “Free” by Goodie Mob. Medill fourth-year Onyekaorise Chigbogwu then performed spoken word poetry to express a sense of the hopelessness caused by unending policy brutality. BWHC board member and Weinberg second-year Michaiah Ligon also offered a reflection on the ongoing injustice the Black community is facing when it comes to police brutality.
During the candle lighting, Pierce and Ligon performed a rendition of “You Know My Name” by Tasha Cobbs Leonard as everyone bowed their heads in remembrance of Tyre Nichols and his life. At the conclusion of the ceremony, many attendees embraced and shared stories about their joint experience of the night.
The BHWC board stayed in the chapel after the ceremony to speak with community members and students as the audience slowly filtered out. Ligon also saw the vigil as a valuable method of interacting with the Northwestern community.
“We want to increase engagement in our organization and our general sense of presence on campus as a resource,” Ligon said.
The BHWC was formed last Fall as a way to prioritize “Black mental health and stopping the stigma,” according to their Instagram @bhwcnorthwestern. They emphasize Black spirituality and wellness, according to Feuilladieu. The BHWC meets every Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Black House, and invites those interested to join them in-person and follow their Instagram to stay updated on community-focused events.
“We need more healing spaces on campus. There aren’t enough community and individual healing spaces,” said Weinberg fourth-year Nala Bishop, BWHC board member.
Thumbnail image by Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that Olivia Pierce played the cajon and Joelle Moore played the guitar. The article has been updated to reflect that Olivia Pierce played the guitar and Joelle Moore played the cajón. NBN regrets the error.