Seeing the Past with Clear Eyes and Forging Our Future Together

Seeing the past with clear eyes and forgiving our future together

February is Black History Month and has long been recognized and observed at Forsyth Technical Community College. That makes me proud of our commitment to Black History, a history that must be brought forward prominently in our country’s history.  While we will not be able to gather as usual at the Mazie S. Woodruff Center for our annual celebration this month, I encourage you to take part in our virtual series on Exploring Why Black Lives Matter.

To me, celebrating Black History Month is an essential part of understanding all of American history. In order to grow together in the present and transform the future to make it better, we have to see the past with clear eyes. The history of Black people in America is one of slavery, persecution, segregation, and being treated as “less than.” Promises were broken following Emancipation and are still broken today through social injustice and unequal socioeconomic opportunities.

Black History Month began as Negro History Week during the second week of February in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, an educator known as the father of Black History Month. This particular week was chosen as it is the week of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays.

In Woodson’s words,

“If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
― Carter G. Woodson

Fifty years later in 1976, President Gerald Ford proclaimed February as Black History Month during the American Bicentennial.

Now, 45 years later, we witnessed how the pandemic hit the Black community especially hard as economic disparities became even more evident. We continue to struggle with widespread racial injustice and systemic racism. We grieve the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many more Black men and women, and other marginalized genders.

Black Lives Matter. I do not offer that in this blog as a political statement, even though it has been interpreted by many to be confrontational and divisive, and construed as a declaration that other lives do not matter. I ask you to consider this from Karen Stollznow, a research fellow at Griffith University:

Black Lives Matter was not intended to mean that other lives do not matter. In a world where Black people are stigmatized, marginalized, and discriminated against, Black Lives Matter simply recognizes Black lives matter, too … responding to “Black Lives Matter” with “all lives matter” derails the specific conversation about racism against Black people.

Last year, 2020, was a year filled with disruption and discord, with our country sharply divided against itself. We have now entered a new year, yet we remain fractured. The only way forward, is for us to tackle the issues that are dividing us boldly by getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and addressing the truth of our past and our present, so we can forge a new way forward to a future.

At Forsyth Tech, our #OneWord2021 is Unite.  We chose Unite, not to suggest we should accept polarization and disfunction, and we do not subscribe to the adage that we can agree to disagree about ethical, moral, and systemic racism issues. We chose Unite because we believe in the hope of unity, and that belief is grounded in the notion that the only way to true equity and equality for all Americans lies in our ability to once and finally go forward together.

We cannot rewrite our past or make it less disturbing or painful, and we have to accept that our perceptions of the past are framed by our unique and individual experiences. True healing and reconciliation lie in our ability to see the past clearly, to learn from the experiences that make up our individual and collective histories, and to forge our future in truth and with love for one another as brothers and sisters of humanity.

The Rev. Martin Luther King left his vision and his legacy to give us hope.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yes, Black Lives Matter because the unfairness and injustice against Black people, Indigenous people, and all persons of color in America, is still a problem in our society that we need not only discuss, but also come together to change.

The Fragility and the Power of our Democracy

Image of the captitol building

This was my Tweet on Wednesday, January 6, 2021:

“January 6, 2021 … #Heartbroken #NoWords”

The events that unfolded that day, among the historic halls of the United States Capitol in the heart of our nation’s Capital, were an assault on our democracy. The right to protest is a primary tenet of a strong and healthy democratic government, and I believe peaceful protests did occur that day. However, the siege of our Capitol Building, and the violence and death stemming from it, bear witness to the fragility of a democracy, even a powerful republic that has endured and thrived for almost 245 years.

I am reminded of the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

And so, I add my voice to the countless voices around our country denouncing the appalling actions of January 6, 2021, that sought to disrupt a hallmark of our democracy – the peaceful transition of presidential power.

As I reflect on the events last week, my heart remains burdened, but I also have hope. We must never allow ourselves to take our country’s freedoms and our democracy for granted – they are fragile and vulnerable. However, last week I believe we also bore witness to the incredible strength and power of the principles of a free and democratic society as our legislators completed the work prescribed by our forefathers, certifying the election and moving us towards a successful transition of power.

Our rights as citizens of a democratic republic come with accountability to each other and to our system of laws and the institutions that ensure the rights and safety of all people, even those with whom we staunchly disagree. We must not condone, and moreover we must always condemn actions that fundamentally disrupt democratic norms, while at the same time remaining steadfastly loyal to the principles of freedom guaranteed to each of us by Amendment I of our Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The very diversity of backgrounds, thoughts and beliefs represented at Forsyth Tech can make us even stronger if we continue to learn from each other and, without sacrificing our individuality, recognize the beauty in the differences that make our institution and our country great. We embrace diversity and inclusion among our students, faculty and staff, and are intolerant of discrimination in all forms. Some of the core educational principles in community colleges are teaching students to respect each other, value other opinions, understand critical thinking, and appreciate our responsibilities as American citizens.

Last week in my New Year message to staff and faculty, I introduced our College’s #OneWord for 2021: UNITE. Perhaps in the wake of events at the Capitol, the need for unity to prevail, even as we agree to disagree, is even more imperative. Our country remains sharply divided and I am certain there is great diversity of thought and opinion within our Forsyth Tech community as well.  Regardless of where we stand politically and irrespective of our personal and individual beliefs, we must respect the democratic processes and laws of our great nation.  At Forsyth Tech, we must also respect the core values of our great institution – excellence, learning, innovation, diversity, and integrity.

We will not soon forget the events of January 6, 2021, and may what happened on that day, remind us of the responsibilities of a democratic society and the mandate to hold each other accountable for civility and respect for one another, even when we disagree.