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Rallying a narrative for hope and change

The sun was beginning to set, the color from the sky fading and turning grey. The music from Mega Fair was still booming, but the event was dying down. People began to trickle into the area around the Sundial. Waiting.

The crowd grew bigger. People began holding up their signs, and others took pictures.

De'Vante Montgomery was nervous. He wasn't nervous about agitators or counter-protesters. Despite starting at age 15 as a volunteer for the Obama campaign and going on to become the youngest Ohio delegate to the Democratic Convention in 2016, De'Vante was nervous about speaking.

Then the chanting started. Show me what Miami looks like. This is what Miami looks like. Show me what Oxford looks like. This is what Oxford looks like.

Then each speaker had their opportunity to address the crowd. From Hannah Abigail Clarke and Paul Cowin, to Pastor Lesley Jones, each echoed the same message. They spoke with one voice. They motivated and inspired, not just the crowd of supporters, but one another. De'Vante's nerves had disappeared.

"You felt a different type of energy," he said. "It felt like what a rally should feel like. It felt positive, it felt inclusive. Our message was very much love over hate. You know, love trumps hate."

It was De'Vante's idea to organize the Rally Against White Supremacy, which was held last Wednesday night on Miami's campus. He had heard his friends called the n-word for no reason. He had been afraid of being the only black kid in a classroom. He had seen the events play out in Charlottesville.

He knew something needed to happen.

"[Miami] is a great place to do this," De'Vante said of the rally, and the conversation it has generated. "It should be because there's no one here talking about it."

He reached out to sophomore Clara Guerra, and they began organizing. Everyone had a role -- getting speakers, planning the march route, communicating with the university and police for safety. The event was shared through Facebook, and over 1,000 people said they were interested. No one expected that many, but around 300 students, faculty and Oxford locals showed up to hear the speakers and march in support.

"Honestly, we expected a lot lower," De'Vante said. "Just because of where we are, Oxford, going off of those stereotypes. But that stereotype was easily broken the moment we looked back and saw how many people were still coming out of the Sundial."

The sky was completely dark now, and the police lights shone along the rally's march route. The chanting started again, louder than ever. They wanted to wake up Miami.

De'Vante was in front, his colorful Dashiki (a traditional African tunic) standing out in the dark. He was shouting into a megaphone and weaving left and right to cover the width of the crowd, equally giving and feeding off of their energy. He got tired, his voice became hoarse and he felt the pressure. But -- standing next to Pastor Jones, knowing she led a similar march during her time at Miami -- he knew it was important to keep going. It was worth it.

When the crowd moved from the sidewalk to the open streets, when they chanted "Whose streets? Our streets" and when they marched with locked arms, it reminded De'Vante of photos from the 60s with Dr. King and other civil rights leaders.

"It made me smile a lot," he said. "Not only seeing young people, not just black people, at an anti-white supremacy rally -- seeing white people call that out and everybody call it out, I thought that was powerful."

The march made its way around campus before returning to the Sundial. De'Vante stood on a concrete bench, holding one of the megaphones and his fist in the air, watching everyone gather around again.

He was proud. He was proud of their efforts and positivity. He was proud that he was witnessing love overcome hate.

"This is what it's about," De'Vante thought. "This is what Oxford looks like. This is what America looks like."

The night had turned muggy. Everyone in the crowd looked slightly disheveled and sweaty. But they were just as enthusiastic, if not more, than when the rally had begun almost two hours earlier.

De'Vante's voice recovered enough for him to give closing remarks about hope and positivity moving forward. But the rally still wasn't over -- other leaders of the rally and students from the crowd stood up to speak.

And even when the rally was over, when the crowd dispersed and people congratulated De'Vante, even when it was easy for him to say it was a success, it wasn't over.

"I firmly believe that if people come together, just like how we did on Wednesday, I think we can do so much more," De'Vante said.

He wants to keep working, to keep the momentum going, for this rally to start a dialogue and enact real change. He wants more.

"It's all about organizing and making sure that we're not just there when we need to hold up signs, but we're actually in the rooms, we're at the table," De'Vante said. "Because if you're not at the table, you're on the menu. If you're not in the room, you're being talked about. So it's important that we continue to push that narrative forward so that we can get more people involved."

De'Vante and his team are working to create a collaborative of student organizations willing to unify and make people feel included. They're working on more grassroots campaigns, and one of their goals is to change part of the foundation of the university.

"Discrimination isn't discriminatory," De'Vante stated bluntly. "I say that a lot. It's not discriminatory, it has no boundaries, it sees no color. It affects everybody equally in some sort of way. Unfortunately, here at this campus, it affects us harder because we're different."

De'Vante almost didn't return to Miami this semester. He wanted to transfer somewhere else, to be among a more diverse population. But he thought about why he should come back, and there was an answer. There are first-year students who continue to enroll, first-year students who look like him, and what kind of message does it send to them if he leaves? Who would they have to talk to?

"My goal is legacy," De'Vante said. "My goal is legacy because if we don't keep this alive, when I graduate- I'm not gonna be here forever...but when I'm gone there's still going to be people here. So I want them to take up the torch that we're building."

One of the things De'Vante wants to see come out of this rally is a message of hope, for people to feel, especially if they were in doubt before, like they can belong here.

De'Vante was surprised and pleased to see that most of those at the rally weren't people of color. Support from them means everything because this isn't solely a political issue, it's social. It's something that people of color feel every day. Support and participation from others is what can help change Miami's stereotype.

"It takes everybody to do this," De'Vante said. "It's not about me, it's not about what we do as the leaders of this movement that we're doing's about everybody else understanding that we can only do so much as individuals, but together I think we can do amazing things."