After nationwide protests began in May in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Thomas joined with others in the Black Student Union to brainstorm ways to take a stand.
They came up with #AmherstActs, in which the College will match donations from students, faculty and staff made to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the United Negro College Fund and the Pioneer Valley Workers Center. “We will always demand justice for Black lives and accountability for the violence wrought by systemic racism,” as the BSU stated in its callout for #AmherstActs.
The fundraiser began on June 3 and ends at 11:59 pm on June 10. We called Thomas in Houston to ask how this all came together.
How did the idea for #AmherstActs begin?
I was on a call with some friends who are also on the BSU board: Ayo Lewis ’21 [vice president], Zoe Akoto ’21 [secretary] and Maya Foster ’23 [Black Women’s group chair]. The protests were happening, but not everyone can protest. I see my grandmother and don’t want to expose her or my family to COVID. So, it was a moment of looking for other ways that we could be helpful.
At first it was a homebrew situation, where we thought the BSU would reach out to get it going. But then the momentum picked up. Somebody mentioned the idea of fundraising, and I remembered my first year at Amherst, when I worked with Kyndall Ash ’18 on Carefest [an event that raised the awareness for mental health concerns on campus]. The College donated a certain amount per person who participated. I thought: Why not do something like that again? Then I reached out to [College President] Biddy [Martin]. She was nothing but supportive. She seemed very excited about the idea and matching funds, and thought it was a good way to get people engaged.
How did you choose the three organizations to receive funds?
I suggested the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Biddy suggested the United Negro College Fund, because she believed it would align with the mission of the College. I was excited that we added a local organization, the Pioneer Valley Workers Center.
How did you work out the logistics of #AmherstActs?
The BSU, in an all-out effort, pulled together the different elements of what needs to happen: social media, notices in the Daily Mammoth, working with the College to figure out logistics for donations, creating the form where donors submit their receipts to be matched (done by Charles Flippen ’22) and the donor-donator form for alumni (created by Cole Steiger ’19 and Olivia Rosenfeld ’18).
What kind of emotional response have you gotten?
People have reached out to me and said that they really love the idea, that they’re grateful for it, because it gives them a more focused way to contribute on social media. There’s been a lot of re-posting of the link. #AmherstActs also helps give us a sense that, beyond giving your own money, the College is doubling that. Amherst has helped provide a good foothold and entry point. So, by giving, you leverage the privilege that you hold by going to an institution like Amherst to make a real contribution towards change.
How to Contribute
Amherst is matching individual gifts from students, faculty and staff up to a total of $250 per person through June 10. As of June 9, the campaign has raised $13,230, a number that includes both the gifts and the matches.
Update: Final Total
#AmherstActs raised a final total of $183,000. That figure reflects the funds the Black Student Union raised and the College's match. Approximately $115,000 went to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, $36,000 to the United Negro College Fund and $32,000 to the Pioneer Valley Worker’s Center.