Waking Up to Social Justice
A Pledge from the Leadership of Centura College, Aviation Institute of Maintenance, and Tidewater Tech
A statement from Benjamin Franklin, borrowed from ancient Greek wisdom, has been quoted quite often lately: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” That statement hits home with me in the wake of the George Floyd murder, as it says to me personally: Joel, if you are not just as outraged at acts of violence and systematic racism as an African American would be, then you’re sleeping through one of the most importance crises of American history.
It’s time to wake up.
I recently watched a program called “Into an American Uprising: White Accountability,” which featured Tim Wise, a lecturer and author of several books that fight racism in America. Wise discussed the seemingly constant start-and-stop of race reform in our country, often sparked by a tragic killing of a person of color resulting in a temporary collective outcry, but then followed by distraction and forgetfulness. Wise said, “You have that moment where you wake up. But then too often, you just hit that snooze button and you go back to bed…. I’m hoping, especially because all of this is happening against the backdrop of the disparate racial impact of COVID-19, rather than hitting the snooze button for the 11th or 12th time, we are finally gonna get out of bed.”
It’s time to wake up.
I cannot know whether the tragic killing of George Floyd will be an authentic beginning to true revolutionary change throughout our country, or whether it will end in another cycle of dozing off at the wheel. But I can tell you that for me, for my family, and for our institutions—Centura College, Aviation Institution of Maintenance, and Tidewater Tech—we will not hit the snooze button. Within our institutions, I pledge:
- We stand against racism in every form.
- We actively promote opportunity and prosperity equally among all races, genders, orientations, and identities.
- We do not tolerate speech or action that harbors hatred or antagonism between groups of people.
- We take practical steps toward inclusive relationships within our organization and throughout the community.
In early June, a group of leaders at our Home Office met to have an open discussion about how we can deliberately incorporate racial inclusion, celebration of diversity, and building of cross-cultural relationship into our conscious livelihood. We know, without a shadow of a doubt, that diversity is one of our school characteristics that makes us great. All of our campuses demonstrate not only a rainbow of races and cultures within our student body, but we are also blessed with diversity within our faculty and staff at every level.
To celebrate and improve upon this environment of inclusion, our leaders pledged to develop ongoing conversation about inclusion and cross-cultural relationship as a part of our ongoing process. This group is currently developing a webinar series, led by female and male African American, Hispanic, and Caucasian leaders at our Home Office, entitled “Diversity, Inclusion, Relationship: A Conversation with Institutional Leadership.” I have asked every faculty and staff member in our institution to sign up for one of these conversations to discuss diversity and inclusion as one of our most important attributes within our educational process, and as one of our most important assets with which we can educate tomorrow’s workforce as we grow together as a work family. One of the goals of these conversations is to get our staff’s ideas on how we can make sure that this time in American history is transformational for us, and that we never fall back to sleep.
On March 31, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an address at the National Cathedral in Washington, and I believe he was speaking directly to us today about sleep. Dr. King told the tale of Rip Van Winkle, who walked up a mountain and slept for twenty years—indeed, a full generation—while the world went on without him. Dr. King said:
The most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountain, a revolution was taking place that at points would change the course of history…. And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.
Within our institution, we will not sleep. We are committed to fully incorporating diversity, inclusion, and relationship into our conscious daily lives, not just our quiet, unspoken thoughts. We will be an outspoken mecca of racial harmony, not just a quiet place where we do good work together. I believe our country needs to embrace our collective outrage toward social injustice and systematic racism, and use that outrage productively to demand a better country. And with twenty campuses around the country, I believe we can have a strong impact, not only for our staff, faculty, and students, but also for our communities throughout America.
It’s time to wake up and not fall back to sleep again.
Dr. Joel A. English
Executive Vice President