University called to action at ‘Ring Their Names’ vigil

‘From our grief, from our rage, there are only two options left — action or despair’

At the virtual vigil “Ring Their Names,” Adrienne Davis, vice provost and the William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law at Washington University in St. Louis, urged faculty, students and staff to direct their passion, intellect and resources to achieve racial equity. 

“What would it look like if Washington University put the same energy into ending structural racism that we put into curing cancer?” Davis asked during the June 5 event, broadcast on Zoom. “We helped put the rover on Mars. What if we put the same resources into bringing white supremacy to its knees? … What if we acted on the resolutions we have made, the reports we have commissioned, the initiatives that languish? From our grief, from our rage, there are only two options left — action or despair.”  

Hosted by the university’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion, “Ring Their Names” honored the lives of George Floyd and other black men, women and trans people who recently have been killed. The event featured the voices of Chancellor Andrew D. Martin and student leaders as well as 5 minutes and 25 seconds of silence — a reference to the date that Floyd died while being restrained by a Minneapolis police officer. 

In his remarks, Peter Ogunniran, a PhD student in Arts & Sciences who is from Nigeria, described the worry he has felt daily since his arrival in America five years ago. How, he wondered, have black families endured such dread over the generations? And what, he asked, did black people ever do to deserve this?

“I was raised in a Christian home, and, as a Christian, you have to love everyone,” Ogunniran said. “I ask myself, ‘Where is the love?’ If you cannot love me on earth, when are you going to love me?”

Chancellor Andrew D. Martin expressed his despair that both the recent killings of black people and the deadly COVID-19 pandemic have shown that our efforts to reduce racial inequality have failed. But he challenged the Washington University community “not to sit for too long in our grief and instead to stand up to racial injustice and be the leaders of change.” 

Vice Provost Adrienne Davis spoke via Zoom during a virtual vigil Friday, June 5.

“Many of you are already standing up,” Martin said. “You are on the front lines of protest. You are calling your community leaders and volunteering for community positions. You are writing new policies and organizing forums. You are pointing out inequality and disparity in the classroom and through your research. You are providing compassionate service and patient care to those who lack proper access. And you are talking with your children about race and injustice.  

“It is time to do even more — to double down on our efforts and continue to uplift our mission to improve lives as we work to enact change in the region and throughout the world. At Washington University, this is how we will continue to ring George Floyd’s name.” 

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