I know I said we’d be delving into Part Two of the Welcome Manual this week, but that will have to wait for now.
The tragic deaths in our country over the last few weeks demand that our conversation change; that we all pay attention; that we all ask questions about how we can live and love differently; and about how, regardless of our age, race, job, or state of citizenship, we raise our voices to achieve the society described upon the founding of our nation.
The words of the Declaration of Independence could not be more clear: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
A Wake-Up Call
When the shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas took place, I was in Boston and Plymouth. These pivotal places in American history, which represent hope and freedom, only made it more painfully obvious that nearly two and a half centuries since we declared independence, we have yet to live up to the beautiful ideals of “life, liberty, safety and happiness” for all our citizens. These deaths have been a poignant reminder of this fundamental failing, and they’ve rattled me, as I’m guessing they have many of you. Police being targeted and killed while serving their cities is horrifying and unacceptable. Protests, sit-ins, viral videos, and daily unrest make it clear our racial divide is not narrowing. We are living in a crucial moment in history. Real change will demand collective grace, understanding, risk, patience, and many other qualities that require tremendous selflessness and self-awareness. It’s also going to take people in positions of power and privilege using their platform to bring this change about.
Until recently, I have not thought much about my role or opportunity when it comes to providing a forum for discussing and improving race relations locally or broadly. I have simply lived my life as my parents and my faith have taught me– to treat everyone with respect. As a native of Atlanta, I’ve associated with of our identity as “the city too busy to hate.” As an employee of Georgia Tech, I’m proud that we were the first public university in the south to voluntarily integrate. As an American, I stand behind Martin Luther King Jr.’s words to judge not “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” But I have begun to appreciate that not being part of the problem is also not being part of the solution.
“What can I do?”
At Georgia Tech we proudly recruit, cultivate, and graduate students who passionately seek solutions to complex problems. They are insistent upon collaborating to refute the status quo. It’s my responsibility, as a citizen, a staff member, and someone who holds a position in national organizations for higher education, to bring that mentality to our nation’s current racial climate. This is uncomfortable and I feel unqualified; yet I also feel compelled.
“What can I do?” This is a question that I’m thankful to hear many asking right now. As for me, I attended a conversation in a colleague’s home on Saturday. About 25 friends old and new. The group as effectively half black and half white, and fairly similarly balanced from a gender standpoint. We talked about big and small issues regarding barriers to racial equality. We listened to stories, we shared our own trepidation, as well as our hopes. This week our staff gathered to listen to black co-workers talk about their last few weeks, their families’ struggles, and their desire to see change in this country they dearly love. Next week well over 100 admission staff from our area, including Agnes Scott College, Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Morehouse College, Oglethorpe University, Spelman College, and The University of Georgia, will gather for an annual day of professional development. We have changed our agenda to include a facilitated discussion on this topic of augmenting race relations in America. And in the months ahead, I’ll be discussing the need for discussion, understanding, and appropriate action at both the local and national level through my professional roles, positions, and network.
What Can You Do?
- You can listen: There are many great recent and archived perspectives, but I was struck by this poem “White Boy Privilege” by an 8th grader here in Atlanta (Be advised he uses some profanity in this video). And then you can ask: “What am I doing to challenge those around me? How am I using my voice, my position, my influence to make racial equality a reality in America in my lifetime?” And then you can REALLY LISTEN as Pastor Greg Allen- Pickett demonstrates in “Reflections on the train: Racism and being an ally.”
- You can read “My hopes, dreams, fears for my future black son.” And then you can think about the literal and proverbial fences that still stand between races in America; about how critical it is for freedom to mean the same thing to all Americans; and how crucial it is for all citizens to trust and support our policemen so they can do their job well.
- You can watch: “Color Blind or Color Brave” And consider Mellody Hobson’s words: “Then I realized, the first step to solving any problem is to not hide from it, and the first step to any form of action is awareness. And so I decided to actually talk about race.”
While the overall solution in our nation is nuanced and complex, part of the equation is recognizing that education is a privilege. AND SO YOU CAN TAKE ACTION: If you are headed to college next year, I urge you to listen and lead—and to challenge others to do the same. Create opportunities to have these hard conversations. If you are continuing in high school next year, be a part of the solution: use your voice and position to build a school community that is equitable, that respects all races, and that gives opportunity regardless of skin color. If you are parenting a student in school at any level, keep coaching your kids to step in and step up. And the same in your own home, your community, your place of worship or work. Be reminded of Hobson’s words, “You can be color brave. If you are trying to solve a really hard problem, you can speak up and be color brave. Now I know people will say, but that doesn’t add up to a lot, but I’m actually asking you to do something really simple: observe your environment, at work, at school, at home.”
We have the opportunity to ensure that 21st century America is known as the time in which we finally made life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness a universal reality in our society. Perhaps someone much smarter than me will come up with a grand plan to bring this about. But for now, I’m looking at myself and my sphere of influence. I encourage you to do the same.