May 29, 2020

Dear CIIS Community,

Breonna Taylor. Nina Pop. Tony McDade. Sean Reed. Now George Floyd. Black people murdered in racist acts of brutality by police in May of this year. 

The Minneapolis police officer who committed this horrific act has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder. It is not enough. Neither are the repetitive public expressions of shock and horror, prayers and promises to investigate, and calls for social stillness. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?”

I have written so many letters to you, my community, in the aftermath of the murder of yet another Black person. In these letters I express my outrage and speak of my sorrow for the families, for those who witness the brutal acts, and for those of you who live every day with the fear that you or a loved one could be the next target. I refer to organizations working to improve things and talk of how we can take care of ourselves and our communities. While I still urge these things and believe in their importance, this, too, is not enough. I’m tired. I’m saddened. I’m disgusted that in the year 2020, with all we’ve seen, all we know, and all we have tried to do, equity still remains so distant. And yet I know that my feelings pale in comparison with those of you for whom this is a devastating day-to-day experience.

After sheltering in place for the last few months due to COVID-19, the talk is increasingly about getting back to normal. But as Barak Obama said in his statement on the death of George Floyd, “for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is 'normal'—whether it's while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.” The pandemic’s “stay at home” requirements also reminds us that not everyone has been equally safe. People of color are more likely to get sick and die from the virus and are in more at-risk positions.

So often the inclination is to turn away when something feels uncomfortable or upsetting. But the people of color in our society can’t turn away from this inequity because it is their lived reality. And neither should the rest of us turn away. I am sitting with my discomfort—my disgust—precisely because I want it to help me as a person and as the leader of CIIS find better answers to MLK’s question of what America has failed to hear. And what I and we have failed to hear. No more can we simply say, “No more.” As a lifelong educator, I believe in the power of education to make a difference in the lives of individuals and groups, to make people question their assumptions, probe their discomfort, and open their eyes and heart to things in new ways.

I do not know how we stop the violence, the racism. What I do know is that I do have a choice in how I respond now—we all have that choice. I am re-committing to the values that CIIS has always espoused about equity and social justice, about being scholars in action, and fostering a compassionate community. To this end, I will be setting up a Task Force of leaders from within CIIS and the wider community to recommend action steps in support of our values and education for change.

We must live up to our ideals, our values, and our potential.

May the indefensible death of George Floyd lead us to redefine and recreate a “normal” that values everyone.

This moment calls for urgency and commitment. This is mine.


We apologize for an earlier version of this article that contained potentially triggering content, which has since been removed.

Former President, Community, Psychology, Things That Matter, Wellness

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