Dear Members of the Emmanuel College Community,
The killing of George Floyd last week at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer—witnessed passively by fellow officers—has struck at the soul of our nation. Video of the incident has starkly and undeniably exposed a truth that many would prefer to dismiss, or simply not think about—namely, that in 2020, Black Americans continue to suffer real oppression and even death as a result of personal and systemic racism. It seems that, for all the technological wonders and material abundance of our modern era, a troubling internal disorder persists. When it comes to the most important measure of a society—its moral progress—America is failing.
As I wrote to current students, faculty and staff this past Saturday, the events in Minneapolis have laid bare centuries-old rifts in the fabric of our nation. The peaceful protests that have continued to spring up in recent days are the crying out of our collective conscience. They are an alarm bell announcing that the time has come, indeed is long overdue, for us as a people to recognize that the violation of African Americans’ inalienable rights continues unabated. What in past centuries took the forms of slavery and Jim Crow continues today in ingrained bigotry, structural inequality, and, as we have seen so often, outright violence.
The names say it all. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, the list goes on. They join the likes of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers and other martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement whose deaths shook our nation and spurred long-needed action in the 1960s. More than a half-century later, the moment for action has once again arrived. Now is the time for courageous public-square conversations about enduring inequalities in areas including housing, criminal justice, hiring, and healthcare. In just the last three months, we have seen Black people experiencing inordinate suffering as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with death rates in many cities substantially disproportionate to their percentage of the population. We need to change that. Additionally, we need to recognize and eliminate the manifold ways in which Black people are marginalized in contemporary American society, subjected to unreasonable suspicion, and excluded in subtle, everyday ways simply because of the color of their skin.
At Emmanuel, we continue to address such issues through serious academic inquiry and discussion, as well as comprehensive student programming and resources. Additionally, the Black Student Union, which this year is marking its 50th anniversary, provides ongoing leadership in voicing the needs and concerns of Black students on campus. Still, we recognize what Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the fierce urgency of now” and are committed to renewing our efforts to understand the root causes of racism and division, while enhancing an atmosphere of authentic welcome, openness and inclusion on campus. This is the ongoing purpose of the President’s Commission on Diversity & Inclusion, which, immediately following the murder of George Floyd, scheduled a listening forum for students, faculty and staff. The forum took place on Monday; an additional forum is scheduled for tomorrow.
“The greatest challenge of the day,” wrote Catholic Worker Movement co-founder Dorothy Day, “is how to bring about a revolution of the heart?” As unsettling as these times are, they offer a historic opportunity for honest introspection, healing, reconciliation, and lasting progress. With God’s grace, let us rise to the moment.
Sister Janet Eisner, SNDdeN