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Keeping up the momentum: how one UMBC student is continuing conversations around race

Sophomore biology major and men’s lacrosse defender Tony Diallo opened his computer and signed into his Zoom account a little before 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 16. He read over his notes and prompting questions as he waited for people to join. Friends and strangers’ faces greeted him as everyone waited for the meeting to begin. A little after eight, he welcomed everyone and began the discussion, this night focusing on how to be a white ally.

Diallo has hosted four of these conversations since the killing of George Floyd on May 25 and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and structural racism. Topics have ranged from defunding the police to voting in the 2020 presidential election, with each talk advertised on Diallo’s personal Instagram account.  

For Diallo, these talks serve as both a means of educating people and helping him process the injustices that lead to Floyd’s death.

“After hearing about George Floyd, I didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t know how to process what was going on,” Diallo said. “The best way I’ve been able to figure things out piece by piece was talking to people.”

While Diallo serves as the organizer and host of the discussions, he does not see himself as a teacher or leader in the conversations. To him, it is important for the forum to be made up of peers so that everyone feels welcome to talk, comment and ask questions.

However, Diallo is no stranger to being a teacher. His experience as one of three black players on St. Andrew’s Episcopal School’s — a primarily white, private high school in Potomac, Maryland— lacrosse team made Diallo many of his former teammates’ go-to person to answer their questions about race.

In talking to his friends and to the people joining his Zoom discussion, Diallo draws on his experiences as the son of two formerly poor immigrants growing up in an affluent environment to bring people together. 

“I’ve seen both sides and I’ve seen the in-betweens as well,” Diallo said. “I know the ignorance that lies in the schools and the people that have lived that boxed life, and I also live with people who have experienced the bad and the not-so-good, and know what it is to not eat at night.”

Despite all this, not every conversation is productive. Diallo explained that many of his former teammates and classmates are supporters of Donald Trump and have not changed their views even after joining his discussions. He believes this is in part because these people were emboldened by Barron Trump’s attendance at their school.

“All the kids who have those Republican views felt like whatever they said would be backed up because the president’s son goes here,” Diallo said. “Like, if I go and I say that joke or I say that comment, I’m not going to get ridiculed because Barron Trump is here. You won’t get kicked out because he’ll defend me.”

It is hard for Diallo to see his former teammates not change their views. But, for all those that do not change, even more have.

“I’ve had guys, friends, people who have been like, ‘This is an issue and this is an issue and I can’t stand idly by and just accept it for what it is. I need to step in. Ask questions. Participate.’ and that’s been the most heartwarming,” Diallo said.

Because of these successes, Diallo sometimes struggles with feeling content with what he has accomplished. He said it is easy to finish the Zoom call, put down his notes, turn off his computer and relax because he did his part.

“It’s hard remembering to stay vigilant and to remember this is so serious. This is still going on. This is still an issue,” Diallo said.

Diallo has noticed that the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests have lost some of their momentum. To him, many people have fallen into the same state of relaxation he has in the past.

To keep the issues he addresses in his discussions in people’s consciousness, Diallo partnered with the Black American Youth Liberation Organization to help advertise his Zoom meetings. He hopes this will get more people to join his conversations and spread the knowledge the participants offer in them.

For those that have yet to join his Zoom meetings, Diallo invites them to take the first, uncomfortable step to join the conversation.

“I want people to understand that it’s uncomfortable as hell. I’m uncomfortable; every single call I’m nervous,” Diallo said. “But it’s important to ease into it and understand that it’s okay. Once you feel uncomfortable, you know that you’re doing something right because you’re hearing the truth.” Diallo’s next talk is scheduled for Sunday, July 26 at 8 p.m. over Zoom. To get access to the meeting, direct message Diallo over Instagram.