A message to the University community from Christopher Jones, J.D., Senior Diversity and Inclusion Officer
In the last several weeks, there have been opportunities to take stock of many aspects of racism in America. We have seen the way it manifests within systemic frameworks and institutions. We have seen the way it is visited on the bodies of the oppressed. We question the way it is heard in spoken word or it is read through social media. More important, our view may be distorted in the way that reasonable people can look at similar circumstances and make different decisions, and, at the same time, we must not forget the role of our own personal power in being the change we want to see.
Last Friday, this nation lost two heroes: the Honorable John Lewis, Representative to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 5th Congressional District of the State of Georgia, and Rev. Dr. C. T. Vivian, activist, author, and former leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), whose civil rights work spanned five decades. Both men were titans of the civil rights movement. Both men lived with the psychological injury of being reared in a segregated American South, and both men lived with the physical scars of brutality that were heaped upon their bodies. Yet, both men were even more influential in their lives after the movement because they learned how to heal their wounds through acting on the courage of their convictions.
In the halls of Congress, Rep. Lewis was the conscience of his generation. At the time of his death, he was the last living individual who spoke at the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Rep. Lewis spoke truth to power in a way we are not likely to see again, and, in a similar way, Rev. Vivian, a contemporary of Dr. King’s, made his mark on the national stage in Selma, Alabama, pursuing voting rights for Black Americans in the face of white racism. Rev. Vivian led SCLC activities throughout the South and took that same activism to the North, including time he spent in Chicago and service as Dean of the School of Divinity at Shaw University.
Both men were recognized in life with this nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Their passing provides a moment for me to think about the quality that both men possessed that I most admire. Although unique to their own styles, both men were masters of the radical narrative. Each man had a way of, as novelist Toni Morrison says, creating who we are and who we need to be at the same time as developing the narrative of our own story. Both men understood that our dialogue is a way of intellectualizing our individual radical narrative to activate what is within us as a community.
We just completed an example of applying the radical narrative to dialogue. Our current moment led to the series Challenging Conversations. This four-part series was created to discuss the way we form this idea of race in our minds, the way it impacts our lives, and the prism by which we view the actions of society. What it should show all of us is the power of ideas—the power to create solutions to problems, just as Lewis and Vivian did in their time.
The power of a place like the University of Redlands lies in the ideas of its people. The transformation of ideas into new modes of action and learning is at the heart of applying education to our real-world problems. It is from this place that I think about our personal stories of inclusion. As we recognize our institutional shortcomings, let us also discover its strengths by starting with our greatest strength—our people. To begin this personal journey, there are three questions each of us should ask ourselves:
The first question is one of identity. The second is a question of your calling. The third is a question of your service.
We all can be involved in concrete ways. The first option is to submit a proposal for the Inclusive Community and Justice Fund. Proposals are due on Monday, August 3, 2020, and should be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Through this fund, the University has committed to putting resources behind innovative ideas that promote a more inclusive culture on campus, which we all want to see. The second opportunity will arrive in September, when we hold a Diversity Town Hall. The commitment has been made through my office to create a strategic plan that supports our efforts not just for a short time, but for future generations of faculty, students, and staff. The planning process will begin with the Diversity Town Hall on Monday, September 28, 2020; more details will follow, but for now save the date.
Healing is a process. It happens with deliberate steps and specific activity. Whether an injury is small or large, the proper foundation is needed to create an environment for proper healing to occur. At this time in our journey, I am asking us to use the power of our best thinking to move forward with healing one another as a community—together.