Dear Members of the Wallace State Family,
It is with a grieving heart that I write to you today. I am grieving for George Floyd and for all those who have felt as though they have been suffocated by racial injustice and discrimination of any kind. I am grieving for our nation, where trust seems to be in short supply, where nerves are frayed and escalation of action is all too common, often usurping patience and understanding, and where rhetoric and response at times seem out of touch and inconsistent with the deepest needs of America’s people.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Centuries earlier, in For Whom the Bell Tolls, John Donne expressed, “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” Across time and space, there has remained a profound truth -- we are all one.
Higher education, at its best, breaks down barriers, provides a doorway to opportunity, and opens hearts and minds. This is perhaps especially true of community colleges, and that is why I have made community colleges and the valuing of diversity my life’s work.
In your time at Wallace State, I hope you have felt our conscious commitment to equity and equality of opportunity, to the importance of living an honorable life, and to learning that transforms lives and communities. In support of our mission, Wallace State is committed to student success through a student centered, innovative, engaging, and supportive learning environment; teaching excellence; respect for uniqueness and diversity; strategic partnerships that advance community; cultural enrichment of our communities; and accountability and integrity.
Even as my heart breaks, hope springs from the young men and women who peacefully and courageously give voice to love and unity and tolerance and understanding so desperately needed in our world today. Once again, it is our children, our students, who inspire us to be our better selves.
As chair of the commission that authored the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt, said: "In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."
Let us never think that this work is done. Even those of us in small places can and do make a difference – because we are all connected. We must remain humble and steadfastly, eternally committed to ensuring human rights everywhere.
Please join me today in reaffirming The Birmingham Pledge, adopted some years ago by the Alabama Community College System and the State of Alabama Board of the Education at the urging of former board member emeritus and my friend and mentor, the late Dr. Ethel Hall:
The Birmingham Pledge
I believe that every person has worth as an individual.
I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color.
I believe that every thought and every act of racial prejudice is harmful; if it is my thought or act, then it is harmful to me as well as to others.
Therefore, from this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions.
I will discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity.
I will treat all people with dignity and respect; and I will strive daily to honor this pledge, knowing that the world will be a better place because of my effort.
To sign the pledge, click here.