June 1, 2020

The nation and Nashville have come through a horrific weekend of social outrage. Like many American citizens, we all are outraged over the recent police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor’s murder by Louisville police, and the vigilante killing of Ahmaud Abery in Georgia. The egregious images of these killings are not a new reality for Black communities; nonetheless, they are shockingly regressive to a history of public lynchings of Black people fueling the current uprising in American cities as protesters call for justice. America has reached a tipping point that will hopefully become a turning point. It goes hand-in-hand with the convergence of systemic racism, criminalizing Black life, racializing poverty, and uses and abuses of authority that keep a police culture of racial brutality and modern systems of oppression in place. The uprising of Black people and concerned citizen allies across America is a necessary courageous movement for transformative change. George Floyd’s killing is only the latest episode of inhumane treatment of African Americans dating back to plantation slavery and the history of public lynching of Black people in this country. We heard the suffocating plea for life by Eric Garner, who died in July 2014 due to an illegal chokehold by an NYPD officer. We hear the plea again in the desperate last words of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe.” What has changed since Rodney King’s brutal beating in Los Angeles, 30 years ago? Millions of American citizens hear the plea this time with greater intensity of our interrelated reality saying enough is enough. The culture of Minneapolis is the culture of Nashville and cities across America.

Urgent visionary justice leadership is needed now. We applaud the courage of young people of all creeds and colors to take to the streets to highlight the urgency for change in America. It does not surprise that these killings reopen racial wounds never healed since the brutal murder of fourteen-year-old Emmitt Till in August 1955, the white terrorist bombing of a Birmingham church killing four teenage girls, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson in 1963, and the hate-filled white supremacist murder of nine people in a prayer service at Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.

The mission of American Baptist College dictates that we join the millions of American citizens demanding the U.S. government to move beyond the perpetuating cycle of America’s shameful history of systemic racism in the long path of “the blood of the slaughtered.” The damaging disease of racism cannot hide the white nationalism fueling this mayhem. What we see in the streets of American cities are the angry cries for justice. Weary with justice delayed and denied on many fronts of poverty, and racial bias in public policy decision making, they protest in pain for the unfilled promise of freedom and justice for all. It is unfortunate to see the burning of buildings and looting by outside instigators of violence embedded in groups of peaceful protestors who seek a new political narrative of justice for America. We have not seen a spasm of nationwide protest and violence since the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. But the public outcry and display of outrage are welcomed signs of this generation of young American citizens being resolute not to rest until the U.S. government commits to radical reforms and crafting and implementing social policies to end systemic racism in this country. Rioting and looting are not their message. We know all too well the lament for justice throughout the history of American Baptist College and the pain of social victimization, accompanying mental crisis and violent acts of unresolved trauma. But we’ve also seen what the power of moral courage can do against the violations of human decency and racist disregard for the dignity of Black people’s lives. Only voting at the polls for new leadership committed to “a revolution of values” and non-violent acts of activism will change America’s narrative of systemic racism.

Ending systematic racism is the responsibility of every American citizen. Freeing democracy from the chains of racism is the responsibility of the U.S. president, federal and state legislators, mayors, governors, city councils in every city, university and college educators, every citizen of diverse social enterprises, grassroots citizens from every neighborhood joining together to build the tower of justice in America. Nashville can lead the way to become the “It City for Justice.” Going back to the “never was great” normal will deepen and recycle the outrage. If equitable justice change is to occur in America, no longer can citizens allow the government to stand by, watch a systemic culture of racism kill innocent people and do nothing, as did the three officers in the killing of George Floyd. Getting tough on justice will bring order to America’s chaos. Here at American Baptist College, we hold on to the social optimism and hope that America will emerge from this social uprising more potent for justice, more responsive and committed “to redeem the soul of America” for a civic democracy that enables the flourishing of all citizens.

This change occurs when there is reciprocity of valuing all human life. Then and only then can we say, “We the People of the United States of America.”

Forrest E. Harris, Sr.
President, American Baptist College