A better future

September 14, 2020


During the summer, President Crutcher sent a message to alumni about the nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd. The following is an excerpt.

By Ronald A. Crutcher, president

As the most significant public health crisis in our lifetimes rages on, we have been reminded of America’s enduring pandemic of racism and injustice. As a nation, we have never psychologically dealt with the aftermath of slavery, segregation, lynching, and more recent systemic disparities. Today, I would like to pause to offer a personal reflection.

Like everyone in our community, I was horrified by the senseless and barbaric death of George Floyd. When I first saw the video of Mr. Floyd’s murder, I wept. In its wake, I have found myself reliving several traumatic moments from my childhood.

I vividly remember having “the talk” all my Black male friends had with their parents about how to survive and thrive as a Black man in America. For my brother and me, that involved my mother insisting that we speak only the king’s English and comport ourselves with impeccable manners, no matter our feelings. She even dressed us like mini-adults, often putting us in suits and bow ties. I felt like I was in a straitjacket at times, and I later rebelled by growing an Afro, much to the chagrin of some family members.

My parents had very real reasons to be concerned about our safety. When I was a boy, my uncle was beaten and killed in cold blood by white police officers while in custody for a crime he did not commit. The perpetrator of the crime for which he was arrested later confessed. My aunt was left with three young children under the age of 10 and no recompense for his murder.

When I was a bit older, two boys in my church community — the Jennings brothers, just 14 and 16 — sought shelter from the rain in the doorway of a jewelry store. The police assumed they were breaking in and shot them dead.

To this day, my heart still races when I spot a police car in my rearview mirror.

The deaths of Mr. Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others underscore the pernicious and pervasive nature of racism in America. I know that many of our students of color have had the same “talk” with their parents that I had with mine. I also know that our Black and brown students, faculty, staff, and alumni are hurting, feel betrayed, and are just plain exhausted.

While I am disappointed that some of the protests have become violent, I remain hopeful that we have reached an inflection point in our history. I am heartened by the activism of peaceful protestors who have taken up the mantle of Black Lives Matter. That includes many of our students who have been galvanized by this moment — and by the conversations we had about race, racism, and xenophobism on our campus in January — to dismantle systemic inequities in our society. It also includes many alumni who are living our shared values beyond the boundaries of our campus.

In his often-quoted remark, Dr. King said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We must remember, however, that it bends most actively when each of us embraces the cause of justice and equality as a shared responsibility. At the University of Richmond, we will continue to do our part, building on years of concrete action to foster a more inclusive intercultural community. In the year ahead, we will further engage the UR community in addressing both subtle and not-so-subtle racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism on our campus. While we know we have more work to do as an institution, we are proud of the significant progress we have made. We are also so proud of those in our community who are speaking out to illuminate and inspire this moment.