These are extraordinary times, and extraordinary challenges we are facing. But we often feel so ordinary. What can an ordinary person do to make a difference, in extraordinary times? Jesus said “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” In this, I hear Christ saying “No justice, no peace.”
Andy and Amy Weyrich often worship at Tabor with their son Sam, and daughter Sarah. Andy is the U’s vice president for research. And he was quoted in the Tribune in June talking about racism in higher ed. The week of June 15th, the University of Utah’s research community participated in #ShutDownAcademia, a day dedicated to conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement. Faculty and students from universities across the country stopped researching, and instead had conversations about how to value diversity in their departments. Why are there so few Black and Brown students in the sciences? What obstacles are they experiencing? What can universities do to change that? Black STEM students often experience inadequate preparation in high school. They experience white counselors discouraging them from science careers. When they get to university, they see very few students, and even fewer professors, who look like them. White professors often take less time, if at all, to get to know them. And as a result, Black students in STEM are offered disproportionately fewer fellowships, TA positions, and other financial and mentorship opportunities, than white students. That’s white supremacy at the university level.
Andy Weyrich, in his position at the U, encouraged different departments to learn more about systemic racism. He said, “As the vice president for research, I stand in unity with the fight against systemic racism, white supremacy, and the ongoing oppression of the black community.” To the university staff, he said, “As a reminder, racism and discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in the U research community.” In the coming year, he pledged to prioritize seed grant initiatives and research programs for partnerships and efforts that support diversity and inclusion. He said the U also will engage leaders, researchers, and other members of the black community to learn how to bring about sustainable change in the school’s research areas.
He said, “Amplifying and prioritizing voices from individuals in the research community who experience the effects of systemic racism and discrimination is essential in helping us establish a culture that works to dismantle systemic inequities.” Andy reminds us all that “amplifying and prioritizing” the experiences of black students is essential.
I note here that we live in a chronically attention deficit culture. Politicians fight to control the news cycle in order to take over the narrative the public hears. This is why peaceful protests continue night after night on our city streets. In three weeks’ time, the news cycle can easily be swallowed up in another crisis. The public square, our country’s streets, are the places where black voices will struggle to amplify themselves and be heard, because it’s still the prerogative and privilege of whites to decide if and when those voices will be seen as essential, or not.
Andy Weyrich’s moral commitment gives me hope. It reminds me of Christ’s theme: “no peace, without justice.” His words tell me that he knows this is a long haul. Ibram Kendi tells us he has hope that racism will be eliminated, but that it will take a generation to do it. I think it will take a generation of white commitment, to fixing this white problem.
We white folks are ordinary sparrows, with extraordinary privilege. Privilege that we can’t even see, because it’s like air we breathe. But I hear Christ Jesus reminding us again that there’s no peace without justice. “No justice, no peace” is a chant we will hear at many peaceful protests, by people trying valiantly to keep the news cycle focused on essential black voices. I see them as peaceful disruptors of business as usual, much like Jesus himself was. “No justice, no business as usual” seems to be what our attention deficit culture requires.
I heard the voice of a doctor who beat the odds and came up in the sciences as a black man to become president and chief executive of Montefiore Medicine, the academic medical center and University Hospital for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. As its president and chief executive, Philip Ozuah wrote a vulnerable, personal account of what it’s been like for him as a black man growing up in America. I asked Deb to link his article in the NY Times on our website so you can read it.
Philip Ozuah said, “It’s hard to find comfort in this troubling time. But I see rare hope that these twin disasters disproportionately hurting minorities: one a brand-new virus, and the other a virus as old as the country itself, could finally prove the true strength of our shared humanity.”
“America has changed its behavior in such profound and fundamental ways to mitigate the coronavirus: from self-quarantining and working from home, to wearing masks; and literally risking our lives to care for the sick.”
“As our streets fill every night with protestors demanding a change that has been too long in coming, I dare to hope that we as a people can summon the same selfless courage and determination to change our behavior to address the endemic racism and brutality that plagues our country. Then finally, we may rid ourselves of that deadly virus as well.”
And to that, I can only say, Amen. – Pr. David