Dear Campus Community:
The recent murder of George Floyd took me back to August 2019. I had just completed a presentation when I received a call from my niece.
“Daddy is transitioning,” she said.
The optimist in me asked, “Are they transporting him to a new facility?”
My brother had been hospitalized for the past week; however, he had been showing signs of improvement. But my niece only reiterated her statement, this time with greater force and pleading for me to listen to her words.
“Auntie,” she said, “daddy is transitioning.”
Finally, I heard her and, in that moment and in that public place, I began to scream and cry uncontrollably as I could not believe that a man who had been such an important part of my life—my big brother, my Black superhero, my greatest advocate—was leaving me. He was my big brother. He was me and I was him; we were inextricably bound. How could we do holidays again without him? Who would provide me with loving big-brother advice? The pain of that day still resides deep within my heart. I still weep often, I still miss him daily, and there are moments that I debate within my mind about how it could be that this man is gone.
Coping with Trauma
As horrible as that experience was and continues to be for me, it frames in a different way the sense of loss I am feeling about the most recent rash of deaths of unarmed Americans who are Black. Fortunately, I did not have to witness my brother’s transition from this world repeatedly on a news reel or social media. I did not have to watch as men sat on top of his handcuffed body, his face pressed into the filthy street crying out for our mom. I did not lose him while he was jogging. I did not lose him as he was purchasing a gun. He was not taken from me by a botched police invasion into his home while he slept in his own bed.
While I was spared that additional pain, I am keenly aware, as an African American woman, that had it not been for the grace of God, the circumstances of my brother’s departure could have well been similar to that of countless other unarmed Americans who are Black. This is part of the burden that you carry as an American who is Black. Always wondering, always praying, always holding your breath, always preparing for the worst around things that other Americans take for granted.
It begins with the “The Talk,” the words spoken by our parents in an attempt to literally save our lives. Such guidance warns us about the inherent dangers and threats that exist for us in society because we are Black. Warnings about the dangers of interactions with the police, for example, have been passed down generation after generation from fathers and mothers to sons and daughters, in homes, churches and other community spaces. This wisdom has been compiled from far too many experiences with unprotested deaths of unarmed Americans who are Black dying at the hands of police. However, while Mr. Floyd was compliant, lessons from “The Talk” did not save his life.
These experiences are horrific for those who are “woke” to the cumulative stress associated with loss after loss after loss of innocent lives, and injustice and un-justice in our judicial system. Part of what we are witnessing is a nation of people who are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD. For many, these aggregate losses and threats are so much more than single acts. Taken together, these losses are not only “very sad,” but also, for many of us, they are and will continue to be extremely personal, causing us to question even more our safety and security as Americans who are Black. Today, we and other Americans as well as people from around the world are in mourning for brothers and sisters whose lives have been lost unjustly. We are experiencing justified anger and outrage. Our challenge now is to channel this energy in a way to effect change. We must have change in this nation. As a campus community we must do all we can inside and outside of the classroom to plant seeds of social justice, seeds of change as we are a community preparing future leaders.
We all have entered this horrific national experience through different doors and view it with different lenses. If you are entering the experience with a desire to use your privilege to affect change, I encourage you to begin by learning about how to be an effective ally. This work is not easy nor seasonal, but rather it is necessary and must be consistent over time.
As our community along with the nation grapples with all that we have seen and experienced, there yet is another call for us to 1) courageously stand up to some difficult truths about our country; 2) understand the history of these difficult truths as context is everything; and 3) most importantly, be willing to act in order to effect change.
To help us deal with these emotions and chart a path forward, the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion over the next weeks and months will host a series of virtual webinars and curated conversations about race in our country. We encourage your participation. Events for this week are listed below.
Virtual Vigil: Remembrance of Black Lives Lost to Racialized Violence
Date: Thursday, June 4, 2020
Time: 6 p.m.
Come Sit at My Table: A Campus Conversation
Date: Friday, June 5, 2020
Time: 1 p.m.
Topic: “Pre-Coping: Surviving and Thriving in a Time of Uncertainty”
Facilitator: Dr. G. Christine Taylor, vice president and associate provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Guests: Dr. Martha Crowther, professor and director of clinical psychology at UA
Jennifer Turner, coordinator of clinical services and licensed professional counselor, UA Counseling Center
More resources can be found at Get Involved.
Stay well, stay safe and stay strong.
Christine Taylor, Ph.D.
Vice President and Associate Provost
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion