Last week, in my president’s update message to the students, staff and faculty of Forsyth Tech, I shared my personal heartbreak and sadness over the senseless and tragic death of George Floyd earlier in the week in Minneapolis, and the other incomprehensible deaths of so many other black and brown citizens.
As I write this, it is now Sunday, May 31, 2020. In Winston-Salem, NC this morning, the day dawned with beautiful sunshine and a gorgeous blue sky filled with puffy white clouds. It is the kind of day that naturally inspires a smile and calls out for lightheartedness, happiness and joy. Yet, the beauty of the day is no match for the shadow of despair that blankets our nation, and the pain and bitterness borne from unfathomable injustice that envelops our hearts.
We are almost halfway through this year. While 2020 began with all the hope and anticipation befitting the start of any new decade, we quickly realized this year would be unlike any in our lifetimes. Our country continues to be shaken by the novel coronavirus COVID-19, which created its own unique flavor of dissonance and division, impacting us emotionally, mentally, and economically, even as we all experienced the impact of the virus in disparate and inequitable ways. In the midst of the continuing toll of the global pandemic, our nation was laid bare by three separate racist acts causing the deaths of three African Americans — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
On this Sunday morning, across our state and our country, we are struggling, and it is heartbreaking. I believe we want to accept, own, and overcome the discrimination, oppression, and inequities which have long threatened to destroy our democracy, but the roots are deep and the healing and transformational pathway forward will be long and difficult. We must focus on eradicating the root cause behind the heinous actions that have brought us here rather than placing blame on entire peoples or professions. We are fighting another disease in this country in addition to COVID-19 — the disease that is tearing us apart is borne of prejudice, racism, hate and evil — and unfortunately that disease can afflict any individual and it transcends all demographic groups and professions.
Today, amidst all the heartache, anger, strife, and dissonance, I want to share words of wisdom and comfort for my Forsyth Tech family. I want to understand the incomprehensible and lead us through that which may never be truly understandable with courage and compassion. I want to be the leader that my college and my community deserve and need.
In 2019, my first year as your president, our college community created a new shared vision: “Forsyth Technical Community College is a catalyst for equitable economic mobility, empowering lives and transforming communities.” We also worked together to build our Vision 2025 strategic plan and we adopted our first ever equity statement: “At Forsyth Technical Community College equity is grounded in a culture of belonging. We will intentionally design the college experience to ensure that each learner receives what they need to be successful.” As an institution, we have established our core values: excellence, learning, innovation, diversity, and integrity.
Everything we did together over the past year has positioned us to be leaders, and moreover, to lead boldly and bravely. If ever there was a time when our students and the communities we serve needed us to lead, and to do so fearlessly and courageously, that time is now.
As I reflected on all of the things I “want” this morning, I came across this blog by Dr. Krishauna Hines-Gaither: 10 Tips for White Allies Regarding Police Brutality: From the Heart of a Black Woman…I found Dr. Hines-Gaither’s tips to be insightful and extremely relevant for me personally as I strive to lead through these painful, confusing, and difficult times. When thinking about Forsyth Tech, I am drawn especially to number 10:
“Having difficult dialogues across differences is not easy, but necessary. While doing your work, also be open to constructive feedback. As James Baldwin said, ‘If I love you, I must make you conscious of the things you do not see.”Dr. Krishauna Hines-Gaither
Perhaps one place we can lead is through advancing dialogue — real, hard, courageous, respectful, honest, and healing dialogue. Despite everything that has happened this year, and perhaps in spite of it all, I still have faith. Many years ago, Charles Spurgeon said:
“Faith goes up the stairs that love has built, and looks out the windows which hope has opened.”Charles spurgeon
At this critical moment in our nation’s history, perhaps our leadership imperative at Forsyth Tech is to advance courageous and difficult conversations to create productive and systemic change. Perhaps our values of excellence, learning, innovation, diversity and integrity can frame our conversations and lead us to action that expands our institutional culture of belonging into efforts to build a world of belonging. Perhaps our dialogue can be grounded in our work to be a catalyst for equitable economic mobility and we can use the power of knowledge to empower our students so they can be a part of transforming our communities.
I have faith that stairs built by love lead to windows opened by hope. I have faith in the hope of a better tomorrow for our country and a nation where all men and women are truly equal and free. I have faith that we as a country want to be better than we have been. I have faith that we, Forsyth Tech students, staff, and faculty, can be the change that we want to see in the world, and as a college community we can be a model for systemic transformation and healing.
I am privileged to lead Forsyth Technical Community College. This year, as we celebrate our 60th year as a life-changing institution of higher education in North Carolina, I pledge to be the leader you and our community deserve and need. For me, that means being a leader who does not accept that some things cannot be changed, but rather is a leader who strives with her whole heart to lead change for the things we should not, cannot, and will no longer accept.
I leave you with the hauntingly poignant words of 20th Century African American Poet, Langston Hughes.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed —
I, too, am America.