June 17, 2020
“Lightning Makes No Sound Until It Strikes.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lightning has struck – the sounds that I hear are the sounds of change. I am listening, I am hearing and I am learning.
Over the last few weeks, I have read the narrative of many colleagues from universities across the nation. Their words have affirmed the obvious and yet many of their voices have seemed hollow. I wondered, important as their words have been, what would be the impact. Support for ending racism, for police reform and metaphors for equality and solidarity are laudable, but I want more.
I found myself wondering would their calls for change be consequential. Would this time be different? Would their voices, important and genuine as they are, lead to meaningful change and bold impact? I did not want my inflection only to add to the cacophony – I did not want to be another white male voice that adds to a chorus of empty rhetoric. I want so much more.
My friend and colleague, Ken Hardy, has written persuasively about the inter-generational consequences of slavery, systemic racism and discrimination among black Americans. He has worked for more than three decades to uncover its impact. I thought that I understood what he meant. I have since learned, however, that I never really did. As the political commentator David Axelrod wrote in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post, “I thought that I understood…now I realize that I did not…not in the visceral way that comes when you imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes.”
Then, lightning struck again and it made a thunderous sound. Again, I heard, I listened and I am learning.
A group of Mason students organized a rally on our campus on June 12. Students and alumni as well as members of our Mason faculty and staff and the broader community participated together. Their voices were powerful – their words captivating – their principles catapulting – and their impact enormous.
“No Justice, No Peace”, “I Can’t Breathe”, “Black Lives Matter” and many more. When those gathered responded to the chant: “Say Their Names”, the response included George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald, Freddie Gray, Yvette Smith, Eric Garner, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Botham Jean, Michael Brown and so many more. The recognition of these individuals told a story of racism and also of both tragedy and oppression. I heard the cries as more than names, which in itself was important and moving. They are a clarion call for change.
Our students, on a warm June early evening, spoke to me – I heard, I listened and I am learning.
In his 1965 commencement speech at Oberlin College, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the time is always right to do what is right.”
Now is that time. Now is the opportunity for genuine change, for real transformation.
Universities are special places. They provide a space for creating a future disparate from the past. Mason’s motto, “Freedom and Learning”, offers a platform. It is our responsibility, as educators and responsible members of a university community, to act. It is our responsibility to transform through actions – not words.
We must reflect and revisit who we are, what we believe and what are our guiding principles.
As we prepare to gather our community and safely return to campus, it is time. Let us not only talk, let us act.
I have listened, I have heard and I am learning. Join with me, and our Mason community as we embrace this moment. We must set a new course – we must act.
As Mason’s Interim Provost and Executive Vice-President, I am committed to continued learning, working in collaboration with our campus community and to identifying actions that will be transformative.