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Letter from the Principal concerning anti-Black racism
Wycliffe College has come under criticism in social media in the last couple of days because we have not made a statement about the violent protests arising from the brutal murder of George Floyd while in the custody of a team of policemen bearing the motto “To Protect with Courage, To Serve with Compassion!” So let me just say that I am certain that there is no one associated with this institution—staff, faculty, student, or Board member—who is not sickened by this event, or who is not filled with grief and sadness that our society is so broken.
I realise that part of my job as Principal of the College is to speak for the institution. But I have purposely resisted the urge to rush to a public expression of solidarity and support, and it is because the tumultuous events of the past week are the consequences of a deeply embedded racism at the heart of the culture to which I belong.
Consequently, it is my conviction that this is a time to listen. The time to speak will come, but we must be careful first to listen: to the pain of those families who have lost loved ones at the hands of law enforcement officers or to vigilantism; to the fear of those facing harassment in public because of their race; to the anger of those who feel dispossessed and disenfranchised; and to the hopelessness that too many minorities face in our prisons and on reserves.
In this past week I have heard such words. They have been words of powerful rebuke and I have felt ashamed. My urge to voice my outrage has been stayed by a stronger voice of self-recrimination. Do you know how, in our Good Friday reading of the Passion narrative there are points where the congregation shouts, “Crucify him!”? In a similar spirit of culpability and complicity, I feel like I should be saying, “That was my knee on George Floyd’s neck.” For I have been too uninformed and acquiescent. I have enjoyed the privileges and opportunities of my colour and class without protest and without acknowledging that these are the products of slavery. I have heard the words, “I can’t breathe,” and I have turned away.
But these are not the only words I have heard in my silence. There have also been words conveying morsels of hope and encouragement: President Obama saying that this is “an opportunity to be awakened”; Bryan Stevenson admonishing, “To be honest, it’s not that hard to protest. . . . We need people to vote, we need people to engage in policy reform and political reform . . . We need the cultural environments in the workplace to shift”; Patrick PT Ngwolo, George Floyd’s pastor in Houston testifying, “I have hope because just like Abel is a Christ figure, I see my brother as a Christ figure as well, pointing us to a greater reality. God does hear us. He hears his cry even from the ground now.”
And this, in my mind, is the cue for us to speak. Expressions of solidarity are truly meaningful when they involve repentance and a resolve to act. At the College we are at work crafting such a word at the Board level that I hope we shall release after our meeting on Friday. In the meantime, I wish I could tell you how the news coming out of Minneapolis broke my heart as a son of that city, and as someone who learned what it means to be a follower of Jesus in black communities in the Southern States. But I need to go back to listening.
With you in prayers for healing,
Principal, Wycliffe College.