As Jacob Blake’s name is added to the lengthening list of black Americans shot down in encounters with law enforcement, and the resultant protests generate their own casualties that seem to deepen existing divisions in our nation, I am reminded of the staunch insistence of a great American, Frederick Douglass:
“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”
Today, in this moment — and because of our values — we continue to plow.
Those who saw the first-mover actions of NBA and WNBA players this week — followed by players from Major League Baseball, Tennis, Major League Soccer and others — should place it in historical perspective. American athletes have consistently risen to the moment throughout our history.
When you watch the forthright anger of Lebron James, hear the anguish in the voice of “Doc” Rivers, respect the continuing activism of Smyrna High School alum and emerging WNBA superstar Betnijah Laney, or witness the quiet dignity of Kenny Smith as he left the set of “Inside the NBA” in solidarity, understand that this is not new.
These are the latest leaders in a proud tradition that includes Jesse Owens, Louise Stokes, and Tidye Pickett in the 1936 Olympics; Jackie Robinson breaking professional baseball’s color line in 1947; and the iconic Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics by Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Individuals whose talents could allow them to a life of sheltered privilege have repeatedly chosen to be examples of true leadership in the cause of social justice, even at the cost of their own careers.
We cannot do less.
Today I am announcing three immediate steps that Delaware State University will be taking to help move forward in the struggle for a more equitable America for ALL.
It is important to understand that these actions come from our entire community: some have been driven by faculty and staff, others by our students.
That is the power of “we.”
At the suggestion of our Student Government Association, over the next few weeks there will be a series of small, socially distanced cookouts jointly attended by students and members of the University Police.
We must build more bridges between the students who call this campus “home” and the professionals responsible for keeping it safe. The time to talk is before incidents occur, and we view this as the critical beginning of a long-term, ongoing conversation.
For some of our students – particularly those from marginalized communities — this will be the first time they have had a positive interaction with a Law Enforcement official. We hope to ensure that it will not be the last.
A new boulevard
The University will partner with the SGA on a second major project: creating a Black Lives Matter Boulevard at a prominent location on campus, completed funded by private donations.
Symbolic actions help define us, and as the nation’s most diverse, contemporary and unapologetic HBCU, we need to be both clear and vocal about who we are and the causes we champion.
I have asked SGA Integrity Administration President Tess Aguiar and her leadership team to spearhead this effort, working in conjunction with Student Affairs. We expect to be admiring the results before cooler weather kicks in.
A new institute
Finally, I am announcing a major University initiative that we have been pursuing for over a year: the creation of The Global Institute for Equity, Inclusion, and Civil Rights.
It will provide Delaware State University not just a prominent voice in the issues of the day, but the organizational structure that permits us to have a positive impact in Delaware and across our nation.
The institute will be an associated organization in our foundation capable of serving many roles, from garnering resources, developing partnerships, engaging in research, and stimulating activism.
It is a platform that allows us to lead.
These are foundational steps, but they are not new.
Symbolic of a great nation is a people committed to its most important Declaration, that we all are created equal and “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
In this moment, not only do each of these rights matter, nothing could be more important.
Tony Allen is president of Delaware State University, a historically black college and university.