Letters to Alumni

Commemorating Juneteenth

June 19, 2020

On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed “that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free.” However, it would take almost two and a half years for the Civil War to end and word to spread throughout the South. June 19, 1865, is recognized as the day when the last former slaves in Galveston, Texas, were notified of their freedom. On this date two years later, the first emancipation celebration was held in Austin, Texas. In the 1890s, this annual celebration came to be known as Juneteenth.

In recent decades, the celebration of Juneteenth to mark this monumental development in our nation’s history has grown in significance. However, there may not be a more relevant time for all of us to pause and reflect on its meaning than today, June 19, 2020.

While slavery ended in the 1860s, the oppression of Black Americans did not. We’ve made progress in the century and a half since then, but our nation’s policies, practices, and systems, and our own individual ways of thinking, still support a system that is neither equitable nor just. Unfortunately, it took the public murder of George Floyd to shed enough light to perhaps create real change — change that will only occur if we all commit to it.

Typically, on an occasion like MLK Day or Juneteenth, we would encourage our staff and alumni to take time for self-reflection or to participate actively. As we’re coming to learn, it is important that organizations’ leaders do more than simply “encourage” their staff to engage in active learning. If we are serious about making substantial progress toward societal change, then we must hold ourselves and our teams accountable for active engagement in this change. Accordingly, we expect that every member of our team will engage in some activity today — such as learning, self-reflection, or social activism.

We can’t presume to tell you what you should believe, but we can (and do) presume to tell you that our organizational culture and beliefs require the highest level of commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. To make progress, and ultimately to achieve success, each member of our team must demonstrate that commitment on a regular basis. It is not enough to “encourage.” It is also not enough to carve out only a couple of days a year to focus on these values. We must live and breathe them each and every day.

So, within your reflection today, we’d like you to think about how you can advance these values on an ongoing basis. Actively celebrate Juneteenth by taking time today and/or this weekend to pause and reflect on what “freedom for all” really means, and what our Constitution should mean when it says, “all men are created equal.”

Steve Grafton
President & CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

Jerry Sigler, ’83
Senior Vice President & COO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

Previous Letters to Alumni

To our alumni,

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” – Augustine of Hippo

We are at a very dark time in our history as a nation. Centuries of discrimination and unequal justice have been exposed by a global pandemic that has disproportionately affected the black community. In the past few months, we have seen various instances of systemic racism against members of that community, such as Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Christian Cooper in New York City and countless others named or unnamed before them.

And then the ugliest of truths looked us square in the face with the unconscionable killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. It is the responsibility of all of us — but especially those of us who are in a position of privilege and are not the subject of oppression — to address this disease. If we don’t speak up and act now, when will we?

What many Americans cannot fully understand is the deep, devastating pain it adds to the pain black Americans already experience. Robert M. Sellers, the University’s chief diversity officer, wrote powerfully about this — we strongly recommend you read it. “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” has never rung more true for the black community. This article expresses the burden many of them carry.

Of course, it is not only black Americans who experience injustice and discrimination. We could also be talking about Native Americans, Latinos, women, members of the LGBTQ community — the list goes on. But right now, the personal devastation is much more intense for black Americans. So, we want to speak directly to those members of our community and say:

For the murder of George Floyd and the fact that his life did not matter enough, we are sorry.

For the ugly reality that, for too many Americans, black lives do not matter enough, we are sorry.

For generations of our ancestors who were part of creating and sustaining systems and norms of injustice, we are sorry.

And, even though your lives matter greatly to us and we abhor injustice and racism, for our own passivity in allowing them to continue or not working harder to eliminate them, we are truly sorry.

We also know that sorry is not enough. We are at an edge, and it is our collective responsibility to unequivocally push toward a more inclusive world and actively strive to be anti-racist. We encourage you to read a message that President Mark Schlissel recently sent about the tragedy and U-M’s commitment to fighting injustice.

Your Alumni Association is reinforcing its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We renew our commitment to our LEAD scholars — many of whom have already been exposed to the socioeconomic injustices of being black in this country. We commit to supporting alumni clubs and affinity groups focused on these important issues. We’re prioritizing our push for increased participation of diverse alumni in all our programming efforts. We stay firm in our resolve to be diverse as an organization and welcome various points of view.

We’re sharing resources for learning and understanding and encourage everyone to have conversations with friends, colleagues, and members of the community. We also encourage everyone to sit in silence when necessary. Above all, we commit to showing up and voicing our opinions against racism, discrimination, and any sort of hatred or bias.

Our source of hope and encouragement is hearing the resilience in the voices of students, co-workers, our alumni community, and friends. Thank you for checking on each other, for sharing your anger and concern. We hope everyone will strive to listen, to understand, and to truly care for each other as the equals we are.

“There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.” – James Baldwin

We are better together.

Steve Grafton
President & CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

Bob Stefanski, MSE’86, JD’89
Board Chair, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, the University of Michigan community, unfortunately, has not been spared. We at the Alumni Association are taking proactive steps to ensure that we help “flatten the curve” of infection growth.

While many of us are at very low risk for serious health consequences from the virus, we are all potential carriers and, therefore, play important roles in how quickly it spreads. A steep spike in cases will threaten the viability of our health care system and endanger the health and lives of people we know.

Therefore, we have decided that members of our staff will work remotely, rather than in our current shared office workspace. This temporary arrangement will begin on Monday, March 16, and likely continue for about 30 days. The exact end date will depend on the future direction of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Alumni Association and our alumni clubs are expected to cancel or postpone any events or upcoming gatherings. Additionally, the Michigan Alumni Travel program is working on a daily basis to accommodate the needs of our travelers. And we are monitoring the situation closely for Camp Michigania summer programming. You can continue to find the latest status of all our programs and events below and on our social media channels.

Despite the precautions we are taking, we will continue to be responsive to your needs as U-M alumni and Association members and to work hard on your behalf. So please continue to phone and email us as you normally would.

If you want more information about the outbreak and its impact on the University, please refer to U-M’s announcements website. The Alumni Association’s Education Gateway will continue to feature all the important findings from the University and Michigan Medicine to keep the community informed.

As always, we appreciate the support that our proud alumni provide the University. And we hope that you fare well during this very challenging time.

Sincerely,

Steve Grafton
President & CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan