ORONO, Maine — A hundred or so members of the University of Maine community came together on Wednesday to raise a Black Lives Matter flag at the Memorial Union as a symbol of unity, even after acknowledging that it is a sometimes a controversial symbol of discord.

“Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that only black lives matter, it means all lives matter,” David Patrick, graduate assistant for the Office of Multicultural Student Life, told the crowd gathered for the flag raising, the official kickoff of UMaine’s Black History Month.

Junior political science major Edward Rupia of Leominster, Massachusetts, said he’s found a lot of people don’t truly understand the meaning behind Black Lives Matter, which he said is a call for basic civil rights.

The national movement started in 2012 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in Florida, and it is now “a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society,” the group’s website states.

“Black lives really do matter, and if you watch the media, you’ll see young black men, and females, are being shot down,” Rupia said standing outside the student union, surrounded by students of multiple colors and races who gathered for the flag raising. “All we want is to be treated just like everyone else.”

The same is true for Muslims, immigrants and other minority groups who have come under fire recently, he said.

“The true meaning behind it is a great one,” Rupia said.

Others at UMaine agreed that unity is better than division.

“I’m here in solidarity,” Brendan Allen, an English graduate student, said just before the Black Lives Flag was raised. “I’m glad to see it happen here in Orono.”

Robert Dana, the university’s vice president for student affairs, reminded students during the gathering that it was President Gerald Ford, who in 1976 officially started Black History Month by saying the “U.S. public ought to seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Dana said he hopes that one day, “black history becomes American history,” and then listed off a dozen black people who have contributed or continue to contribute to this country, including former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and others.

The flag raising is only one of a dozen events on campus planned for Black History Month.

On Friday, the NAACP is hosting a 2 p.m. “Pop Talk” in the Coe Room at the Memorial Union, and visual artist Eleanor Kipping will give a talk at 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10. Her socially engaged multi-media installation Brown Paper Bag Test will be on display at the Innovative Media Research and Commercialization Center in Stewart Commons noon-8 p.m. Feb. 7-11.

Other events include multicultural Mondays, a coffee hour at 4 p.m. Feb. 17, a showing of the film “Moonlight” at 8 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Collins Center for the Arts, and a 5:30 p.m. community potluck on Feb. 24 in the north pod of the Memorial Union.

Lee Jackson, a UMaine student and Old Town school board member, told those gathered Wednesday that he believes civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud of the accomplishments that have been made in the years since his assassination, but he also would be disappointed.

“He preached about love as much as he preached about civil rights,” Lee said, saying some have forgotten King’s message.

Dana said the Black Lives Matter flag is “often thought to be a symbol of discord,” but it takes on a different meaning on the Maine campus, where it is a sign of “unification, partnership and collaboration.”

“Together we are unified and stronger,” Dana said. “We’re all coming together to exercise our voice — all races, all faiths, all ethnicities, are together.”

Rupia said “it’s definitely a great thing that the school is behind” diversity.

“We’ve definitely come a long way, and we still have a long way to go,” he said.