By Mara Van Ells
Six UC Berkeley students woke up before dawn to climb into the Berkeley Hills to paint a school symbol red, black and green.
The students, members of the Black Student Union, lugged cans of paint and other supplies up the hill in darkness to paint the formerly golden giant letter C the colors of the Pan African Flag.
The Big C is a large concrete block that was built into a hill overlooking campus in 1908. Since then, it’s become tradition for opposing teams, such as Stanford University, to paint the Cal symbol their own school colors and for Berkeley students to repaint the structure gold.
The students decided to paint the school symbol to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and with black people all over the world, said senior Blake Simons.
“There’s no boundaries to anti-blackness,” he said.
Gabrielle Shuman, a senior and co-chair of political affairs for BSU, said the group first considered painting the Big C completely black but then decided to instead paint it the colors of the Pan African Flag.
“This is not just about us, this is not just about any one city or any one person. This is about a movement. This is about our people,” she said.
“This is our UC as well, so we were taking the space,” added senior Eniola Abioye.
The act of painting the structure was community building and healing, Abioye said. She said the group would count how many days the colors are left on the structure. If the block is repainted, “We’ll paint it again,” she said.
The Big C is also an athletic symbol for the university. Abioye said part of the impetus to paint the symbol was that the school makes a lot of money off of black student athletes—and many students feel they aren’t treated well by the university.
Over the past two months, the Black Student Union has organized three separate events to protest the police killings of unarmed black men.
Students have marched on the streets, through local businesses and sat in at cafes. The demonstrations have allowed students to grieve, heal, and show solidarity with protesters in Ferguson and Staten Island as well as express concerns about race relations at Cal, they say.
BSU first organized a four-and-a-half hour occupation of Golden Bear Café, on Dec. 4, designed to last the same amount of time the body of Michael Brown was left on a Ferguson, Mo., street after he was killed by a white police officer. On Dec. 13, students peacefully marched from Berkeley to join the Millions March in Oakland. Most recently, BSU organized Black Brunch, where protesters marched through breakfast spots on Berkeley’s Fourth Street. The Jan. 3 event was meant to be reminiscent of sit-ins during the civil-rights movement when black protesters would peacefully occupy restaurants they weren’t allowed in, Simons said.
By 7:30 a.m., the students had completely finished painting the structure and cleaned up their paint supplies.
“This was really good,” said Schuman, gazing at the group’s handiwork. Green paint splatters had dried onto her white tennis shoes. “I’m proud of this.”
Mara Van Ells is an aspiring digital journalist who is pursuing a master’s degree at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
For black students at Cal, protests are about Ferguson – and their own lives (o1.15.15)
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CHP arrests 150 protesters after they block I-80 freeway (12.08.14)
City of Berkeley told police to use restraint, avoid tear gas, on second night of protests (12.08.14)
Photo Gallery: Two nights of protests, riots in Berkeley (12.08.14)
Protesters take to streets for second night: violence, vandalism of local businesses, looting (12.07.14)
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