Colleen Hammond | News Editor
On the evening of Sunday, Oct. 4, students, faculty, staff and invited guests gathered on a rain-soaked Rooney Field to participate in a group “Prayer for Unity.”
The 20-minute ceremony, led by Duquesne chaplain the Rev. Bill Christy, featured opening remarks by Duquesne President Ken Gormley, readings from scripture and statements on diversity and togetherness from Sherene Brantley, associate athletic director and chair of the President’s Advisory Council for Diversity and Inclusion.
This council, although established in 2018, has garnered new attention and importance to the campus community as a result of Duquesne’s Black Student Union, in accordance with nearly a dozen other minority organizations, issuing a formal list of demands to university administration calling for increased initiatives to make Duquesne’s campus more inclusive and equitable.
Dannielle Brown, mother of late Duquesne student, Marquis Jaylen “JB” Brown, was also present at the prayer service. Once she arrived, she was greeted by Gormley and led to the stands with the other speakers at the event where she was allowed to remain for the majority of the ceremony.
Sunday marked the two year anniversary of her son’s death.
Brown was allowed to make a statement as a true symbol of solidarity on campus. Brown called for unity of Duquesne’s students, administration and staff. She noted that despite her disagreements with administration over her proposed demands and three-month long hunger strike, she wants campus to be a united community. She stated she is continuing her fight “for you students” and expressed her and her late son’s love for Duquesne. She even affectionately referred to Gormley as “Ken Ken.”
Brown then compared herself to widely known figures of self-sacrifice.
“I think of Mother Teresa. I think of Gandhi. I think of Jesus. I think of myself,” Brown said.
She then proceeded to paraphrase John 15:13, the famous Bible passage that states “man hath no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.”
Brown then repeated the phrase “humility, humility, humility,” over and over to communicate the need for service and self-awareness in the Duquesne community.
Also in attendance was Brown’s other son, Jamal Brown. Brown noted that he surprised her in Pittsburgh to commemorate the anniversary of JB’s death.
After Brown’s statement and a subsequent prayer by a guest deacon from the diocese of Pittsburgh as well as Brantley’s encouragement to make Duquesne a more diverse place, Brown was escorted from the stands and directed to JB’s memorial bench near the entrance to Rooney Field.
JB’s bench was decorated with a wreath of flowers, and the congregation was led in a moment of silent reflection and was instructed to face the memorial bench as Fr. Christy blessed the bench with holy water.
Brown said that the flowers that rested on her son’s bench were donated by friends and family — not the university.
Although the service was presided over by a Catholic priest and was performed in the Catholic tradition, the ceremony was open to students of all faith backgrounds.
After the final blessing, the roughly 60-person audience, mostly comprised of female student athletes, left Rooney Field in a socially-distant manner.
The ceremony also made sure to ensure proper COVID-19 protocols. Upon their arrival, students and faculty were required to have their temperatures taken, record that temperature and answer a basic health questionnaire. Attendees were also required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Between each speaker, the microphone was wiped down and sanitized.
This “Prayer for Unity” is the first in a series of monthly prayers for unity sponsored by Duquesne’s athletic department. They will be held outdoors in the same fashion as long as weather permits.