More than 300 members of the Colby community gathered Tuesday shortly after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd and were implored to see the case not as a victorious endpoint, but as a marker in the ongoing effort to bring equality to a country long marred by racism.
“We had a just verdict today,” said President David A. Greene. “It’s important, but it’s not enough. This is true for our community. It’s true for the world we live in. The problems that existed that allowed George Floyd to be killed, in the way he was killed, still exist today, and will exist tomorrow if we don’t do something about it.”
Dean of the College Karlene Burrell-McRae ’94 offered personal reflections, saying she could not imagine how students were feeling at that moment. “I have had, in my short life, more time to process,” she said, “to be able to still hold onto a glimmer of hope.”
The reality, even after the verdict, she said, is that Floyd is not coming back. Floyd died “because someone didn’t see my humanity, didn’t see the contribution that my people make every day for us to live the lives that we do.”
Burrell-McRae said privilege in our society carries a responsibility to work to break down racial divides. “Whiteness is real in America,” she said, pointing out that most of those gathered were not Black. “It’s for you to see that we belong,” she said. “It’s for you to see that we deserve to be here. It’s for you to see that we hurt. It’s for you to see that we want to live lives just like you, and we deserve lives just like you.”
Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies, reminded listeners of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s call for the nation “to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
Gilkes described the Chauvin trial as “a lightning flash” that must not go dark.
“The lightning flash is a light that still calls us,” she said, “a beacon that calls us to do the work necessary to heal from the horrors of our histories and our heritages.”
President Greene quoted newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., recipient of the 2021 Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award, who, in receiving the award earlier this month, said the current calls for an end to racism “must be a movement, not a moment.”
“The only way that’s going to happen is that each of us commits to it,” Greene said. “When we say, ‘Black lives matter,’ it’s not a slogan. We say Black lives matter because Black lives matter. We say it because Black lives have been devalued in ways that allowed them to be diminished, destroyed over time throughout the history of our country. And we have to recognize that, and we have to hold it true to everything that we do.
“This is on us,” Greene said. “Those of us who are in some ways the least threatened … know that this fight is for all of us and for the world we want to live in. It’s in our words. More importantly, it’s in our actions and everything that we do. It doesn’t go away because of one verdict.
“It goes away because we show up every day and we insist that it never happens again.”