Stories of Impact

The Swearer Center Stands in Solidarity with our Students, Colleagues and Community Members

September 8, 2017

As we, the staff at the Swearer Center, welcome students back to campus at Brown University, we continue to reflect on the difficult and challenging times we face as a nation. We intend to make it clear following the events that took place in Charlottesville, Va. nearly one month ago, that we denounce the hatred of white supremacist, neo-nazi, and fascist groups. We reject the racist ideology and violent actions of these groups.

While we work in solidarity with our students, Brown faculty and community partners and members, we work to excavate the systemic roots of injustice, understand them, and organize to change them. We believe community, scholarship and action are the central ingredients to a vibrant, inclusive and just democracy. This is why we remain committed to working in partnership. Our valued partner, Swearer Center Junior Fellow and Practitioner in Residence Marco McWilliams, reflected on the current state of our country:

"Perhaps few American residents were prepared for the shocking events that rang out on August 12 in Charlottesville, Va. Yet, somehow, they were familiar. “We literally fought a war about this” read one counter protest sign. Here it was, white supremacy in the raw, hoods off, recalcitrant, a spectre so ominous. What could go wrong? Dr. Greg Carr, Afro-American Studies Chair at Howard University, said it best on Twitter in an assertion that this current White House administration is "presenting everyone in the United States with the clearest chance in two generations to decide where they stand."

Almost immediately educators, faith leaders and community organizers all across the nation began working to create contextualized and effective ways to critically explain the appalling performance of racialized hatred and terror. The irony of American-style white supremacy notwithstanding, these leaders need not look very far.

When we consider the courageous voter registration campaigns in Mississippi and Alabama throughout the 1960s -- deeply moored in violence -- or the intrepid Freedom Riders who, in 1961 journeyed into a South -- segregated by blood -- it can be easy to imagine ourselves far removed from this brutal white supremacist past. Sadly, this is far from true. Moreover, I continue to discover that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s seminal document, “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” appears to be rendered in invisible ink on the syllabi of so many teachers. Here, Dr. King sat in solitary confinement crafting a response to a religiously diverse collection of eight white faith leaders who had questioned the logic of the direct action strategies of Black Birmingham. In the letter he asserts:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice …”

These influential moments and movements shaped later political and social developments for all those who call America home. Yet, it can be easy to forget (or forego) the way in which they bequeathed to our country the richest of traditions toward human dignity. The civil rights movement of our grandparents’ generation provided the nation with something that, in this hour, it is sorely lacking: moral leadership. Ella Baker, the legendary organizer and visionary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), always taught that "strong people don't need strong leaders." In the aftermath of Charlottesville for many around the nation it seemed clear that the country had nothing that could even be mistaken for moral leadership. If we are, as Dr. King encourages, to be leading voices rather than mere echoes, or as Lincoln foreshadows, “touched … by the better angels of our nature,” we must seek out, call for and be something more free, more liberating, than what we bore witness to in Charlottesville."

Unjust systems of power thrive on isolating people from one another, denying access to knowledge and preventing action. Thus we choose to commit to stand in active solidarity with all who are working to build a movement of racial justice. We invite you to join us and hold space for one another in our hearts and to meet any act of hatred with an overwhelming number of acts of love and unity. 

In solidarity,

The Swearer Center
Brown University