Dear Montserrat Community:
Today, as a country, we set aside this day as one to reflect on the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The last few weeks, the last year, the last decades , and 400 years of oppressive history show how important it is to continue to strive to be better to each other. As individuals and as a nation we must educate ourselves and increase our capacity for empathy. This last part is challenging because so much brings us to anger. I think we must find ways to funnel this energy, just as Rev. King asked us to dream and to work for reconciliation, renewal and necessary change. It is not the lone responsibility of a few people in the community. It is our collective responsibility to take action. Change and progress happen at the speed set by the collective. I urge you to engage more and to productively raise concerns and present ideas. Some opportunities to engage and present ideas are illustrated below as we make progress toward increasing avenues for engagement on campus.
Others in history have also asked the same set of questions and made the same points. The first person I want to highlight is Harriet Tubman. She profoundly stated many years ago that, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars and change the world.”
The second person is James Baldwin. He pushes this concept even further by stating: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
In the spirit of these three outstanding people and in the spirit of today, I ask you to engage in the tough conversations, open yourself to the idea of change, increase your capacity to understand and empathize.
We have made progress in the last few months, but I also acknowledge there is still more to do. The Board of Trustees’ has engaged in conversations and training over the last 18 months to increase awareness and challenge themselves on the tough subjects of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We need to have these conversations with others on campus as well.The President’s Cabinet is reading and will be talking tomorrow about the profound ideas and struggles of James Baldwin in the context of his book, The Fire Next Time. I hope you consider reading this book as well and forming your own discussion groups. I have included a link to a 1965 debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley, Jr. that illustrates how relevant the concerns from that time are still today. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxLUbKebYvc)
The Montserrat Galleries have expanded their programming to include many more artists of color and LBGTQ+ artists in the past two years. Please take advantage of this programming whether you are on or off campus!If you have ideas or feel the programming needs to speak to a wider audience than it does currently, please reach out to Nathan Lewis (firstname.lastname@example.org). Nathan has great ideas about how work can get shown on campus, whether in the galleries themselves or in another display space/screen on campus.
As I mentioned in a letter over the summer, the college has formed two committees to engage more directly in our continued discussion on DEI and setting goals and a committee dedicated to increasing our connection to our surrounding community. The initial meetings for these committees will happen in February. I urge you to be part of the conversation as we chart a course for real change authored by you and not just a top down approach. Top-down change is never really healthy or sustainable in the long term.
Take more than today to think about our responsibility in the face of the turmoil around us. As creative people we have a unique voice and ability to communicate. Our messages can break through the barriers of division because we have so many ways to relate and challenge.
As a final thought, I leave you with the following quote from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
We have accomplished so much as a community of creative people, especially within the limits that the pandemic has put on us. Let’s always strive to do more by challenging ourselves and each other to be better humans in the face of a world that sometimes looks like it is tearing itself apart. Empathy, courageous expression and love are our tools to make a difference as well as productive anger that is paired with love.
Please remember to actively listen to each other and understand that many people have a journey that is worth understanding in order to expand our own experiences. So much division that we are experiencing today is because we are not actively listening to each other and engaging each other in a respectful way.
Be well and I look forward to starting the Spring Semester with this special community of creative people.
Some resources to engage with that I have found inspiring and helpful in the past year:
Debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley, Jr. in 1965. This is a formal setting that can be hard to get through but the substance of the conversation is challenging and James Baldwin is brilliant, so well worth it.
Conversation between Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin from 1971.
Websites as resources for education and challenging material:
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice
Studio Museum Harlem
National Civil Rights Museum – Memphis, TN
National Museum of African American History and Culture – Washington, DC
Museum of African American History – Boston, MA