“God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” This verse from the book of Acts is not only the Berea College motto, it is a way of understanding our relationship to humanity. It says that no matter our differences, we have a shared kinship. The Reverend John G. Fee and the founders of Berea College believed in this kinship when they set out to educate poor whites, formerly enslaved Blacks and women together in the foothills of Appalachia in 1855. More than 160 years later, recent headlines make it clear that our society has yet to embrace the idea that we are all kin.
In late May of this year, anti-police brutality protests erupted around the world after video emerged of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling for nearly nine minutes on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, resulting in his death. Closer to home, just two hours away in Louisville, a young Black woman was killed in March when police broke down the door of her apartment and shot her eight times. All of this happened against the backdrop of a global pandemic that is claiming the lives of Blacks, Latinx and Native Americans at a rate four to five times higher than other populations, renewing calls for an end to these systemic injustices: racialized policing, differential access to adequate medical care and housing, inequitable economic well-being, etc.
These events led Berea College to affirm our support for the Black Lives Matter Movement and to join the many calls for an end to police brutality against Black people. In doing so, we also pledged to do more within the campus community to uphold our Fifth Great Commitment, “to assert the kinship of all people and to provide interracial education with a particular emphasis on racial healing and equity among Blacks and whites as a foundational gateway toward understanding and equality among all peoples of the earth.”
It was heartening that on July 11, Berea College students, faculty, staff and young alumni led a march in solidarity with the movement through the city and campus. Harkening back to 1965, when Berea community members participated in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., they displayed the same sign with the College motto as they moved through town. It is simultaneously disheartening that the same message, that Black lives matter, still needs to be repeated today, more than 50 years later.
The breadth of this movement has brought renewed attention and urgency to racial justice, and we pray that the winds of change blowing throughout the nation move us further along Dr. King’s arc of the moral universe toward justice. Indeed, cultural imagery, corporate icons and police protocols are being reviewed, removed and reimagined. These are positive, though not always popular, developments on the road toward equality and equity for all.
The fight for a world shaped by the power of love over hate, human dignity and equality, and peace with justice is far from over. The names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among too many others, should forever reside in our conscience as we move forward. Perhaps 50 years from now, but preferably much sooner, we won’t have to remind society again that, indeed, Black lives matter.