If his own friend hadn’t just been shot in the head, Justice Woods might not have even shown up to last night’s Michael Brown rally.

The recent Howard University graduate had work Thursday evening, and wasn’t planning on taking the night off. But scrolling through Instagram, he saw a picture of a bloodied and bandaged Mya Aaten-White—-a fellow Howard grad and friend with whom he had lunch, drank, and shared classes. White was reportedly shot in the head while protesting in Ferguson, Mo., following the death of Brown, an unarmed teenager shot by police in the St. Louis suburb last week. The exact details surrounding Aaten-White’s shooting are still unknown, but Woods says he heard she underwent surgery and, luckily, seems to be doing OK.

“I’m angry,” he said.

Woods was one of more than a thousand people who attended a Thursday night rally at Malcolm X Park for Brown and other victims of police brutality, organized by activists and local social justice groups as part of national moment of silence. Participants chanted “Black lives matter” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.” One person carried a sign that read, “I cannot believe I still have to protest this shit!!”

But Woods, like some others in attendance, thought the rally felt a bit disjointed, its message unclear. So he stood up, wearing a Howard University shirt and holding an American flag, and tried to compel the crowd to act.

“If you’re right here right now, you need to do something,” he said, adding that even talking about the injustices and sharing statistics that show how black Americans are subjected to arrests and police brutalities is a start.

Others in attendance felt that simply being at the rally was a start.

“We’re really just trying to make a difference and the first step is to be united,” said Barien White, a Hampton University student carrying a Trayvon Martin sign who came to D.C. for the rally with his brother and some friends. “The masses that are here are here for a united reason.”

When the Malcolm X Park rally concluded, some attendees hurried to Howard University’s campus to attend a vigil—-a much more somber event. There, professors and students leaders spoke on the steps of Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall, the same one where Stokely Carmichael stood and the black power movement is said to have started.

The hundreds in attendance lit candles for their “fellow brothers” who had been killed at the hands of oppressive governments and systems. They lit candles for Michael BrownTrayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and for those who died for slavery, “for brothers just like us.”

Students noted that this week is Howard’s freshmen move-in, and that Brown was supposed to start college this week. Woods also spoke at the Howard vigil, recalling how he had met Mya Aaten-White years earlier at a Jena 6 rally on campus.

“Don’t have the same thing happen to you,” he warned. “Don’t let your friend get shot in the head before you do something.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery