Awareness Walk: ‘One voice, one message, one love’
By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Eunice Ishimwe has a voice.
Most days at Grand Canyon University, it gently rises and falls to formulas and technical concepts.
But at Sunday’s One Love Awareness Walk, the Rwandan-born electrical engineering senior mesmerized a socially distanced crowd of about 500 with her voice as it boldly rose and fell to the song “Good Grace” by Hillsong United: “People/ Come together/ Strange as neighbors/ Our blood is one,” she sang.
“We are united through Christ, who loves us and who cares for us, and that was the main goal of this: to know that there is one love, and that it is through Him,” said Ishimwe, a member of the African Student Association.
Ishimwe was surprised, she said, to see multiculturalism front and center so quickly in the semester.
“I have been here for four years. I’ve never seen firsthand, ‘Let’s talk about the cultures that are on campus. Let’s talk about diversity.’ So this was incredible to have and actually to see it happen, especially the first week of school, when everybody is distracted,” said Ishimwe, who felt the peaceful stroll through campus, organized by the Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion Office, was saying something else important: “Oh, by the way, there’s people on campus you should get to know.”
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
Walk participants lined up in assigned lanes before the kickoff at 6:15 p.m. from the Technology Building, led by Thunder and members of GCU’s Gateway Brass Band. Athletics and the Spirit Programs made a strong showing at the event, where students carried signs, such as “Love Above All Else” and “Love Thy Neighbor,” as they wound through campus. The route ended at the Quad, where Bob Marley’s “One Love” was playing.
It was over the summer that Donald Glenn, Director of GCU’s newly expanded Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion Office, was speaking with student leaders who expressed a worry they had. They thought there might be little mention of the recent social issues that have swept through the country once students returned to campus for in-person classes.
So the office organized the One Love Awareness Walk as a way to recognize what has been going on in the world but also to express how GCU approaches multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion: through the lens of Christian worldview.
The event, which culminated Welcome Week, also introduced students to the office and the resources it offers.
“There are a lot of things that I am unsure of,” Glenn said to the crowd. “But tonight, what I do know, is that we are at a place that has allowed an opportunity for diversity and awareness and inclusion to be possible, and that is not happening across the country. So let’s give praise that we have the ability to celebrate diversity and unity at this place. I am grateful tonight.”
Glenn, a pastor who sees diversity and inclusion through biblical text, said he was reminded of the parable of the Good Samaritan in planning this event.
He shared the story about a religious leader who asked Jesus how he could gain eternal life.
Jesus answered by telling him about a man who was beaten and bruised and left by the side of the road for dead. A priest traveling down the same road passed the man by. So, too, did a Levite. But a Samaritan — the Samaritans were hated by the Jews — had compassion. He poured oil on the man’s wounds and wrapped them, brought him to an inn and told the innkeeper, “If he needs to stay longer, let him stay. When I return, I will pay what I owe you.”
When Jesus asked the religious leader which of the men was a good neighbor, he said it was the one who showed grace.
“And tonight, it’s all about sharing what the Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion Office is all about,” Glenn said. “ … From now and until forever, we will be about showing each other grace. In the world that we live in, that is what we need: One love.”
Glenn then led the crowd in an exercise, asking them to yell their own name.
A multitude of dissenting voices answered.
Then, Glenn continued, “I want you to yell that name, the name that is above every name, the name that every knee shall bow to, the name that every tongue shall contest to.”
“Jesus!” everyone said.
“Do you see the difference when we are all in one place with one accord, yelling one message, and that is what the Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion Office is all about — coming together with one voice, with one message, one love.”
Iliyani Lambey, a sophomore from Los Angeles majoring in government with an emphasis in legal studies, joined in the walk to show support for the University’s diverse community.
“This new section (the Multicultural Office) opening up on campus is really important,” she said, expressing how diversity isn’t always in the spotlight and how some groups can feel marginalized. “So I’m glad this group is here to discuss this and to make minorities on campus feel more included and more a part of this community.”
Tyler Wells, a junior marketing and advertising major from the Bahamas, said he attended to “show my friends unity.”
Heather Witt, a junior pre-med major from Kingman, Ariz., and president of the Sexuality and Gender Awareness Club, said it was nice to start the semester with community oneness “to make sure that we aren’t going to divide ourselves due to current issues,” she said.
The Sexuality and Gender Awareness Club was just one of the multicultural organizations on campus that manned tables on the Quad.
Edgar Moreno, a sophomore government major and president of the Latino Student Union, said he was hoping students at the event would find their second family at GCU and at the One Love Awareness Walk. He spoke of a student from Colombia who just signed up at the group’s table.
“This is one night for him to have a second family and feel welcome to this school and hopefully this country,” Moreno said.
He also expressed how being able to have a voice is powerful.
“A lot of people feel shuttered out,” he said, whether it’s because they are a minority or for other reasons. “We’re here to tell people, ‘You know what? You have power in your voice, and as long as you’re willing to stand with us, we’re here to help you out.’”
Ishimwe said, “It’s super-important for people of color like me to know that they have a place in the school and that we can be represented and let our voice be heard.”
Dr. Tim Griffin, Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of Students and University Pastor, told students in his address, “We have got a lot of work to do to make this a great semester, and so your involvement tonight is symbolic of our commitment together to have a great semester.
“So I trust that you have been encouraged and challenged by what you’ve heard and that we will look for every opportunity that God gives us to show love and compassion and respect and dignity to one another this semester.”
After six months of building the Multicultural Office while students were away, Glenn was gratified to finally have GCU’s students together again in person. Seeing the GCU community in one place and of one accord while at the same time sharing their diverse voices, he echoed Ishimwe’s thoughts: “It’s beautiful.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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