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MU students protest lack of progress while Spike Lee films their rally

Marshall Allen, one of the original members of Concerned Student 1950, speaks to students gathered in Traditions Plaza Monday afternoon as filmmaker Spike Lee looks on. The group staged a lunchtime rally Monday on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia.
Marshall Allen, one of the original members of Concerned Student 1950, speaks to students gathered in Traditions Plaza Monday afternoon as filmmaker Spike Lee looks on. The group staged a lunchtime rally Monday on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia. The Kansas City Star

Concerned Student 1950 says the group’s demands for combating racism at the University of Missouri are not being taken seriously. On Monday, about two dozen students tried to take their concerns directly to MU leaders.

The group, whose protests in the fall led to the Nov. 9 resignation of the university system president, staged a lunchtime rally on the Columbia campus.

And director Spike Lee and his crew, in town to work on a film about the Black Lives Matter movement at MU, were there to film the protest.

Concerned Student 1950 leaders say they don’t have faith in administrators’ efforts to improve the racial climate on campus, such as a working group that includes student representatives. So the group’s rally on Monday eventually headed to administration offices in Jesse Hall.

The protesters were met by a locked door at interim chancellor Hank Foley’s office. And Chuck Henson, interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity, talked briefly in the hallway with the protesters before retreating to his office.

The university issued a video statement later from Henson noting that he had been in his current position only about 100 days, and in that time a working group including leaders from nearly every student group had met three times.

“The working group is working and the protest that happened on our campus today is unfair and might leave a wrong impression about the amount of progress we have made and the climate on our campus today,” his statement said.

He said there hadn’t been enough time to assess how well the university was moving forward.

“We are dealing with issues that took more than 100 years to develop here, and it is certainly going to take more than 100 days and three meetings to address,” he said.

But the brief hallway meeting with Henson earlier had left protesters unsatisfied.

Imani Simmons-Elloie, a member of Concerned Student 1950, said it wasn’t surprising that university leaders wouldn’t talk to them.

“We try to reach out, and they shut the door on us all the time,” she said. “It’s always portrayed that the black kids are crying wolf, but the media was here to see that they close the door on us.”

The midday protest ended in Traditions Plaza, where members of Concerned Student 1950 camped out last fall in protest of racism on the school’s Columbia campus.

Ayanna Poole, a Concerned Student 1950 member who graduated in fall of 2015, said she came back to campus Monday to join the protest.

“We have to keep fighting,” she said. “We have to keep putting pressure on (the administration). We have to keep letting them know we aren’t trying to work within the system that is meant to work against us. We are here to dismantle the system. This policy that was created is not for people that look like us.”

Protesters also slammed the Missouri General Assembly, where Republican legislators have condemned the student protests and the university administration’s reaction to them.

Marshall Allen, a founding member of Concerned Student 1950, said lawmakers and university administrators were shifting attention away from “the real problems.”

Lee, who was not giving interviews Monday, was in Columbia to see a documentary about Concerned Student 1950 at the True/False Film Fest. He is working on a film titled “2 Fists Up” that will be released digitally on May 31 as part of his ESPN Films series “Spike Lee’s Lil’ Joints.” The film will focus on the Black Lives Matter movement at MU and the Tigers football team’s involvement.

The MU protests gained national attention last fall when the football team lent its support by threatening to strike and not play the rest of its season.

Concerned Student 1950 leaders said the protest had been planned for a while and was not a response to Lee’s being in town. Besides filming the protest Monday, Lee and his crew interviewed several protesters afterward.

“It just so happens that Spike was here,” said Marshall Allen, a founding member of Concerned Student 1950. “We had this planned already. Spike had no part in this except the filming.”

The Star’s Mará Rose Williams, Chris Fickett and Greg Hack contributed to this report.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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