After Charlottesville Protests, Lecrae Helped UVA Students Who Felt Unsafe Transfer Schools

Last Saturday night (Aug. 12), fatigued after a day of traveling, Lecrae had his face buried into his phone, bewildered. “You see what’s going on down there?” a friend had texted him, prompting him to do a bit of research of his own. “Down there” was in Charlottesville, Va., for a planned “Unite the Right” rally on the University of Virginia’s campus. Angry, white protesters—many of whom were not UVA students—armed with tiki torches and a sense of nerve that deeply disturbed the Christian rapper’s spirit, lighted up the town’s sleepy night sky.

“I was pissed at the audacity where people would feel like they could just storm a campus in protest with that type of visceral hatred,” he says over the phone days after the events. “They didn’t even wear masks. They just said, I’m here to hate and I’m going to go back to work this week, and that’s a scary thing to have to encounter.”

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White nationalists, white supremacists and other far-right extremists came out in droves to protest the removal of a Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee, chanting things like “white lives matter,” “you will not replace us” and the Nazi-slogan, “blood and soil.” That day’s events spilled into the next, resulting in the death of 32-year-old counter-protester, Heather Heyer, who was killed by a motorist who plowed into the crowd. Twelve others were injured in the attack.

With the end of August signaling the start of a new school year, all Lecrae could think about was how unsafe and trapped incoming and current UVA students must feel knowing their campus is a springboard for aggressive extremism. As a former transfer student himself, he knew how daunting even the thought of switching schools could be. He publicly extended financial assistance to any student who wanted a way out.

“After Ferguson, Baltimore and all the shootings, you find yourself helpless in so many ways,” he says. “I don’t feel like I can tear down these systems of oppression or hatred, but what I can do is liberate people who are victims of it.” He says that out of a “handful” of students who responded to the tweet, three students (two of whom are black women) have turned in all the necessary forms to move forward in the process. Local faculty members with experience in working with transfer students volunteered to help him help them. “I was very grateful for some other faculty and local people who worked at colleges who could do more of the heavy lifting,” he says.

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While Lecrae was able to do his small part to move people out of a potentially dangerous situation, the fact remains that many are simply unable to uproot their lives and migrate from Charlottesville and inflammatory cities just like it. People of color and their allies are in for the long haul, but Lecrae hopes that next steps will include rethinking and reworking their community networks to ensure that they are in safe spaces.

“People have got to form some kind of unified fronts where you know who your allies are, you know who your friends are, and really begin to work together to create different kinds of infrastructures to protect one another and to help one another thrive,” Lecrae says. “You know some of those guys who were out there with torches and guns and vests are their bankers. They could be advisors. They could be their doctors and physicians. So you have to create a whole new network of individuals you know are allies and who can protect you and mean you no harm.”