Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Students rally for a free Congo and free Sudan

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from, this affects all of us”
Alexandra Hill

On Wednesday, April 17, over 75 students at the University of Massachusetts gathered outside the Student Union to raise awareness for the ongoing struggles specifically in Sudan and the Congo. Both students and educators spoke at the rally organized by the UMass Dissenters and the African Students Association (ASA).

“We’re also here to celebrate life, celebrate the beauty of what it means to be Sudanese, and what it means to be Congolese because I feel like a lot of people are just too comfortable with Black people suffering,” Bedphiny Deng, a Sudanese senior biology major said.

Deng’s family has been directly impacted by the devastation in Sudan and spoke at the rally: “It’s good to see people come together.”

One of the organizers, junior psychology major Danielle Badoe, felt a responsibility to educate the UMass community: “As a part of the diaspora to speak on behalf of Africa, not just my respective country, but the entire continent.”

“Bringing attention to the human rights atrocities that are occurring in which like millions of people have been displaced, and millions of people killed,” Natalia Ruiz, a senior natural resource conservation student said. “We’re also sort of highlighting the direct role that like we play in relation to that.”

“Continuously uplift the lives of the voices of African people, whether they’re Congolese Sudanese, South Sudanese, doesn’t matter…support these people and just show them love because they need it,” Deng said.

Several students shared their thoughts during the rally, including poems and personal stories.

One student was Breanna Joseph, a senior biology major, who shared a speech, “I don’t have a survival instinct. I have a freedom instinct. I’m not content to really survive this life. And you shouldn’t be either. Liberation and a life that is truly mine. It’s my birthright, and I will not leave this earth without it.”

“I am not continentally African,” said Joseph, “but this color we share makes us family. I’m not content to merely link arms with you, I want us to fuse bones becoming of the same mind and same heart. Emboldened by radical and self-sacrificial love for one another and the oppressed people across the diaspora.”

Maab Marei, a sophomore of individual concentration, read a poem that described her deep emotions about her homeland of Sudan, saying, “Memories of simpler times under the warm sun had been obscured by images of its rageful destruction.”

“I grew up between the waters of my homeland, and I’ve only ventured on its sails twice before. Still, wherever I may wander wherever I may roam. I will never forget to pray for my home. Soon Sudan will be free, and my family will no longer have to flee,” said Marei.

Chants were repeated several times, saying, “Free the people, free the land, we demand a free Sudan!”

People chatted while Sudanese, Congolese and African music played. ASA handed out food, including fried plantains and had a space to purchase shirts, cloth patches and other merchandise to which all proceeds went to Goma Actif (a mutual aid collective in the Congo) and Darfur Women’s Action Group (an organization that ensures the spreading of information about the conditions in Sudan).

“All of the donations today, we’re doing fundraising to send to mutual aid efforts on the ground in Congo and Sudan for now,” Badoe said. “And yeah, we’re just really invested in giving back in tangible ways.”

“There’s, you know, food, there’s stuff to be sold, there’s music. We really do see this as, like a celebration of students coming together, like amongst common shared values, completely, on our own initiative,” Ruiz said.

Even though Deng is a senior, she emphasized her hope that events like this will continue and form a “movement based on love.”

“Just seeing the beauty in Blackness and Africanism and all that stuff, because I feel like a lot of people don’t see that they don’t understand, like, the value in our lives,” Deng said.

“I just continue to pray that this is just the start of a movement at UMass, where we’re not only celebrating, and just remembering all the things that people are going through,” Deng said.

Mohamed Elgadi and Magda Ahmed both spoke at the rally. They are involved in the Center for International Education and have lived and worked in Africa for years. Ahmed also spent time in Sudan from 2019 to 2020.

It has been just over one year since the start of the war in Sudan, and millions have been displaced, “including my siblings, my sisters,” Elgadi said.

“What’s happening right now is beyond belief, and who’s paying for that is children and women. We are losing children to famine, every single minute. While I’m standing here talking, there [are] children dying every minute in Sudan because of the war,” said Ahmed.

One speaker was Terrell James, a Ph.D. anthropology student at UMass, who came to represent solidarity between the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) Palestinian solidarity caucus.

“We need you all to understand what is happening in Africa. We need you to understand what’s happening here in America,” James said.

After a round of claps, James continued: “This is why we must actually understand these connections, we have to understand that our movement to free Gaza, to free Palestine, to free the Congo, to free Sudan, to free the new African people here in the United States is phase one to free and liberate the world.”

“The Congo, my homeland, holds many distinctions that I’m proud to share with you today. The Congo is home to the world’s second-largest rainforest, with a thriving ecosystem rich in diversity,” Joy Kunda, a junior communication and journalism major, who was born and raised in Congo said.

“Our nation is also the second largest in Africa by land area, sharing borders with nine neighboring countries, each contributing to the rich diversity of our shared heritage.”

Two members of the U.S. Prison Abolition collective read poems that uplifted African voices and gathered rounds of applause, with some in the crowd tearing up.

Another speaker at the rally was African American Studies assistant professor Toussaint Losier. He touched on the need for eyes on Africa, specifically in the Congo and Sudan.

“Africa is almost kind of synonymous in most people’s minds with war, with corruption, with humanitarian crisis, and most people have gotten to the point where they accept that as normal, said Losier.

Losier pointed to neocolonialism as one factor that has led to the “reality” of life in Sudan and the Congo, saying that neocolonialism “[gives] the illusion of independence, it [gives] the illusion of serenity for countries that had experienced colonialism while maintaining a lot of the exploitation that had taken place under foreign domination.”

“The situation in both of these countries is dire, the folks on the ground have been struggling to prove their circumstances and we need to find ways to support them,” Losier said.

On a similar note, James said: “We never get stories about the liberation movements that are happening in Africa. We never get stories about the people in Africa. We never get stories about how Africa is the most [wealthily] resourced country in the world.”

“My goal is to have people be comfortable speaking about what’s going on in Congo, and also Sudan and just being familiar with it,” said Deng, urging for people who attended to share information to ensure people can educate themselves about the ongoing issues.

“If we don’t change what’s going on, from the control and colonialization, the new colonialization in Africa, we will never, ever be safe,” Ahmed said.

“Let us use our privileges and resources to build a Congo where every Congolese child can reclaim their childhood, where exploitation gives way to empowerment,” said Kunda.

“Free Sudan, free Congo!” the crowd chanted throughout the rally.

Alex Hill can be reached at [email protected].

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