In 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed less than 30 miles from the Florida A&M University College of Law. In 2013, Johnathan Ferrell, who had played football for FAMU, was killed in Charlotte, North Carolina seeking help after a car crash. The protests sparked by the recent death of George Floyd are about issues that are very close to home for Central Florida. As the Interim Dean and incoming Dean of the College of Law, we feel compelled to add our voices to the chorus calling for systemic change.
We are living in historic times. COVID-19 continues to devastate our communities and reorder the economy. The recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor have unleashed outrage resulting from hundreds of years of anti-blackness. The sense of foreboding occasioned by the pandemic merged with painful eminders of the inequities in our country as technology provided the world front row seats to the horrors of living while black in America. We’re being forced to reckon, again, with racism woven into the very fabric of our country. Police brutality, economic oppression, and inequity in the justice and healthcare systems have been weighing on us for years. The burden is heavy. It is suffocating. Black people in America have long been struggling to breathe.
As Caribbean immigrants, we recognize that while we are judged by the color of our skin, African-Americans bear the brunt of generations of racially based trauma and depravation in this country. As leaders in academia we inhabit a space of privilege. However, we are acutely aware that outside of our spheres of influence we are, simply, black women. As mothers of black sons we are painfully aware that our cherished children are viewed as threatening because of the color of their skin. Any of our boys could be Trayvon Martin or Ahmaud Arbery.
As leaders at an HBCU we are concerned about the well being of all our students, but because 47 percent of the student body identify as black, we are intensely conscious of the fragility of black lives in this country. Our concern is not just about societal barriers our black students face, but for their safety. Any of our black students could so easily be Johnathan Ferrell or Breonna Taylor.The killings of Johnathan Ferrell, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd are emblematic of the systemic failure in policing, while the unjustified deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin illustrate the deep-rooted racist beliefs that have existed in this country since before its founding. Both the legal system and the moral compass of our country are in need of change.
As disturbing as the past few months have been, we have also witnessed the best of humanity. We protected the health of our neighbors by respecting “stay-at-home” orders. Healthcare providers worked tirelessly to preserve the lives of those impacted by COVID-19 and essential workers throughout the country showed up so that we could all buy groceries, have our garbage removed, and send and receive mail. People protested in every single state across America; in cities and towns, people of all ages, races and ethnicities joined in solidarity against harmful policing and for the cause of racial justice. These selfless acts give us hope.
While racism has always been present in America, its existence needn’t be our country’s destiny. As Dr. King said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.” The time for change is now.
FAMU College of Law’s mission is to serve as a beacon of hope and a catalyst for change. We stand in solidarity with all of those who have marched and protested against racism and the systemic failures to protect the lives and freedoms of all people. We will continue to provide access and opportunity for those who desire to be change agents. Our students are acquiring the skills needed for leadership and advocacy both in the legal community and society, generally. Our faculty provides impactful discourse on the pressing issues affecting our country. And the entire College of Law community stands ready to be a voice for the underrepresented and to partner with all who are willing to be the change we need in the world.