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Guest Column: Standing Together With Our Black Community

As Michigan Alumnus went to press, the killing of George Floyd – and the events in the wake of that tragic event – consumed the nation. The Alumni Association’s president and board chair had this immediate response. In the coming months, Michigan Alumnus will provide more content related to this subject.
Read time: 3 minutes

“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

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