August 5, 2019

To the American Baptist College Community:

The beginning of the 2019 academic year traditionally finds us excited about new students joining our learning community. Today, in place of my usual greetings, I find it difficult to speak to the national tragedy of two massacres that took place over the past weekend. In the space of less than 14 hours, 29 people, including young children and older adults, were shot dead, and many more injured in the cities of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. As of Sunday, the 216th day of the year, there have been 251 mass shootings in the U.S. This is according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which tracks every mass shooting in the country.

At varying degrees of reaction, we all experience levels of emotional disturbance and psychological trauma not knowing exactly what to do about the nation’s epidemic gun violence. It renders us without confidence that any public place in our cities is exempt from this happening again.

We must remain resilient with hope and advocacy, even in the face of such human losses and the lack of moral accountability from governmental leaders. When he addressed the nation about the mass murders, the President of the United States said that “mental illness and hate, not the gun” were responsible for the massacres. There is, however, a deeper, unacknowledged complicity for the non-action of government. The mass murders which occurred at Columbine, Parkland, Las Vegas, and South Carolina have become so frequent in our society. The recent shooting at the Festival in Gilroy, California, occurred despite that state’s efforts to regulate and curb gun violence.

On the night of February 18, 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson, was shot in the stomach by an Alabama state trooper as he tried to protect his mother from being beaten for protesting racial injustice. Eight days later, he died from his wounds. At the funeral, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must be concerned, not merely about who murdered him, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderer.”

Early investigation into this weekend’s tragedies suggests that the actions of both persons— young white males in their twenties—were driven by the nationalist logic and manifestos of white supremacy and racism. This is a moral problem from which, if left unchecked, America will implode with hate and fear. The shared public sentiment is that thorough background checks and gun control laws are necessary to curb gun violence. The more significant next step is the need for critical national conversations and education at all levels of American society.

Here at American Baptist College, we believe that the key to developing an alternative consciousness for non-violence is to provide the kind of education that produces social justice, equity, advocacy, personal accountability, and moral leadership for the next generation. Over the course of this academic year, we will have as many critical conversations as possible. And we will provide educational support opportunities and relevant counseling to help students, faculty, and staff deal with the social trauma we now face. Faculty are encouraged to include during class time, the opportunity for students to give voice to their feelings and concerns. As we have done before, we must remain both vigilant and resilient to the creation of a just and non-violent future.

– President Forrest E. Harris, Sr.