What HBCU Presidents Are Saying About the George Floyd Murder, Protests

In the midst of protests in cities around the country, presidents and chancellors of historically black colleges and universities are releasing official statements on the murder of George Floyd and the resulting demonstrations.

Here are some of the official remarks from the campus leaders.

Mary Schmidt Campbell - Spelman College

What would serve us well? What role should you and Spelman and the rest of the Atlanta University Center play in the weeks and months ahead? Spelman’s very existence as a place for the education of fearless Black women to become global leaders for the past 139 years is a radical act, in and of itself. What should be our charge as a community in the years to come? Is it, as Stacey Abrams has urged us to do, to mobilize, register and get out the vote? Is it as Marian Wright Edelman counsels, to educate Spelman students to change the lives of others? Is it to change the face of medicine so that we are better prepared to defend ourselves from health assaults on our community? Is it to change the structure of the criminal justice system to thwart its insatiable appetite for devouring Black lives? Is it to rebuild an educational system that fails our children more frequently and with more dire consequences than any other community? Is it to be in the room when technological advances take place that could alter the way we live in the world?

Harold Martin - North Carolina A&T State University

As the leader of the nation’s largest historically black university, an institution borne of the bigotry connected by a straight line of history to Floyd’s death, I appreciate the weight of this moment on the shoulders of our students, their families, our faculty and staff and our alumni. As we collectively bear witness to this injustice, we do so from the vantage point of our university, and the tools and knowledge we can bring to bear in this moment of pain and despair. What can our faculty and students do to bring understanding and context to this incident? What measures of change and solution can their scholarly work make clear? What light can they shed on intersecting dynamics of race, the criminal justice system, history, economics and the human psyche that will illuminate truth for a troubled nation?

Wayne A.I. Frederick - Howard University

In the context of current events there must always be accountability for all found responsible through a fair and thorough investigation so that justice is served. Yet even as we see individual perpetrators on our screens, we must remain mindful that the distorted worldviews and ugly biases have too often been codified into inequitable or predatory systems are equally culpable.  The book of Ephesians reminds us ‘“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

We were born for such a time as this. And I am convinced that institutions like Howard University are destined to continue to build, mold and train the leaders who will help bring needed change to the structures of our society.

William R. Harvey - Hampton University

I do not have all of the answers, but three specific thoughts come to mind.   First, now is the time for us to again come together in our homes and churches to have conversations about how we can move forward as a people and as a nation to end police brutality against African Americans. Secondly, every municipality in the country should establish a colloquium board to facilitate dialogue between representatives of the police and the African American community to include ministers, educators, organizational leaders, and other citizens of good-will.  Thirdly, every state and local police academy as well as other providers of law enforcement officers should establish a mandatory class on policing in the African American community.

M. Christopher Brown II - Kentucky State University

Although no one speaks aloud the whispered questions of the day, they hang above our nation like swords of Damocles. Why are the rates of COVID-19 deaths higher in racialized populations? What is the proportionality of COVID-19 testing and healthcare services in racially disparate communities? Why are the vast majority of national death-by-police cases involving white male officers and suspected black male criminals? SHHHHH, let us not speak aloud the tapestry of pandemic, protests, and race.

This is a curious and uncertain time marked by more questions than answers. However, I implore each of you as members of the Kentucky State University Thorobred Family not to let the current crisis go to waste. As spring transitions to summer, we must harness all of our might and focus on finding new possibilities for our campus and our communities. We must rapidly engage every opportunity to transform rather than reform our institutional positionality.

Roslyn Clark Artis - Benedict College

As an African American, I fully understand the hurt, anger and utter frustration that drives us to this point. The psychological trauma inflicted on African Americans every time a black life is cut short unnecessarily by a uniformed officer, cannot be understated, nor can it be dismissed. However, we must govern ourselves strategically and with discipline. We are strong, resilient, committed and brilliant. We must organize, plan, and use our collective voices to bring about the change we seek.

David Thomas - Morehouse College

COVID-19 has forced us to look at how we secure Morehouse’s long term strength and vitality. The virulence of racism reminds us how important it is that Morehouse continues to develop men with disciplined minds to lead lives of leadership and service. Both viruses also lay bare the deep inequalities of our society and the need for Morehouse to continue to produce those who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. labeled in my favorite sermon “Drum Majors” for justice.

So in this moment we should not despair. We must turn to our faith. We must love and protect one another. We must recognize our anger and channel it into the non-violent social action that this College educated King and so many others to use to change the world. We must aim to be at the center of those who regardless of race, gender identity, nationality or class, want to build the beloved community.

Makola Abdullah - Virginia State University

The torture and senseless murder of George Floyd and other Black Americans continues to highlight the systemic flaws in our nation and in our criminal justice system. The subsequent reactions this past weekend was a reflection of the raw emotions brought about from years of being victimized by institutional racism. It was a reflection of the justified anger and ongoing outrage over the senseless and unpunished violence that continues to oppress Black Americans.

As a black man, the father of a black man, and the president of a historically black university, I stand with you in the pain, justified anger, and fury in this movement to unmask this blatant disregard for black lives. I acknowledge and share in the feelings of the hurt, frustration, anger and emotional fatigue.

Paulette Dillard - Shaw University

The university I lead can host social justice forums, we can stage vigils, we can launch social media campaigns urging peace, our executives and trustees can publish op-eds, and our students can lift their voices. But great strides in social justice have never been made by any one side acting alone. Is it not finally time for all people of conscience and good-will to come together and speak out when they see others being deprived of their rights?

True social justice will elude us until those whose skin color does not cause them to be targeted for unwarranted seizure, harassment, or even death stand up and declare, “STOP-No more!” No meaningful change can or will occur without the concerted, sustained effort of all our citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, social standing or political belief. Philippians 2:4 tells us, "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Dwaun Warmack - Claflin University

In essence, a cultural shift must occur throughout all of society, especially police precincts, court systems, and prosecutors. Society can no longer tolerate:

• treatment of African Americans as second-class citizens

• hasty and unjustified judgment based on the color of one's skin

• excessive harm and brutality to African Americans by law enforcement officers

Education and more effective training of law enforcement officers are needed within training academies, and all systems governing the safety of our nation's citizens. African Americans must cease to be marginalized, brutalized, and/or murdered by justice systems based on ethnicity.  

Quinton Ross - Alabama State University

With this in mind, we struggle with the question, “What should we tell our students?” The answer that I offer you is the same that I give to my sons. I ask that you find ways to protest peacefully, including exercising your personal responsibility to register to vote and then go vote, and committing yourself to continuing your education so that you are prepared to emerge as this nation’s next generation of leaders. I ask that you resist the temptation to channel your anger into destruction; instead, channel your energy into the very thing that disturbs and disrupts those who would oppress you: Education. 

Our nonviolent stand proved successful in the past, and I believe it could be the catalyst for real and impactful change today. Let peace be at the core of all of our actions.

Leslie Pollard - Oakwood University

I am determined that the faith that has guided Oakwood University since 1896, and the cultural legacy handed to us as a Historically Black College and University, will continue to produce generations of Black attorneys, physicians, social workers, dentists, teachers, media and business professionals that combat the ills of our people perpetuated by systems of oppression.  Amid great turmoil we must remain focused on our continued intellectual and moral development. I am determined that “the least of these” will be able to financially access an Oakwood education, so that from the blood-soaked sod of this former slave plantation, a new generation of moral activists will be launched.  Great thinkers will leave Oakwood’s sacred grounds to not simply make a dollar, but to make a difference. Mr. Floyd, and all of the Mr. Floyds of the past 400 years, deserve this commitment from our institution. Moral passivity is not an option!

Michael Sorrell - Paul Quinn College

To all of our Quinnite Nation students and alums who are joining the protests in their respective cities, we are proud of you exercising your constitutional rights to peacefully advocate for justice and equitable treatment. Be careful and be smart. Remember who you are and whose you are. If rioting starts, please find a safe place and call us if you need help. We know people in your cities who can help you. These are troubled times and your rage is understandable. WE just want you to survive so that we can bring about change together. Be strong. Be safe. Be careful.

Johnson O. Akinyele - North Carolina Central University

We are all incensed by the disturbing images of African Americans whose lives have been taken violently across the nation. As we grieve and try to make sense of these tragic deaths and incidents, we also seek reassurance that justice will be served swiftly and those who are responsible will be held accountable. 

As a community of students, faculty, and staff, we must together call for the restructuring of our judicial system to create one that dispenses justice equally, regardless of racial, ethnic or sexual orientation. As an institution that was founded by a visionary and fearless leader, this university represents the values that Dr. James E. Shepard exhibited with incredible fortitude and strength as he built a progressive learning institution for African Americans in Durham in the early 1900s. Intent on his mission despite the history of oppression that African Americans and other communities of color had faced, Dr. Shepard demonstrated that no obstacle is insurmountable.

Tony Allen - Delaware State University

It’s time we make the issue of systemic racism and what it has wrought a priority in everything we do – in teaching, intellectual discourse, research, on the field of play, in or outside of the classroom, and for the communities we serve.

I am not mandating specific strategies or approaches because I don’t have to. Our faculty and staff are adults with imagination, compassion, and conscience, and I believe fervently in your collective wisdom. We don’t need another forum, or a CBA renegotiation, or committees to study guidelines: we need to think, feel, and do.

I expect that we will each more consciously use our extraordinary talents, and those of our students, to build a more just, tolerant University community that sees itself as a fierce, institutional champion in the ongoing struggle against systemic racism. We need to be not only responsible, but fearless.

Larry Robinson - Florida A&M University

I am most proud of Atlanta Mayor and FAMU alumna Keisha Lance Bottoms and St. Paul Mayor and alumnus Melvin Carter who are standing tall in leading their respective cities.

In the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King added, “We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.”

While crimes against African American men in particular is once again front and center and have touched a nerve in our nation, we must remember what Dr. King taught, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.”

David Wilson - Morgan State University

I know our community is hurting, yet again, at the sight of another unarmed young Black man die at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. I know our blood is boiling and our emotions are high. Believe me, I truly understand! As the father of a young Black man, and as an uncle and a great uncle to scores of other young men, I have great empathy for the families who endure such atrocities of civil and human rights. No family should ever have to experience the loss of a loved one in such a brutal and overtly racist manner.