Office of the President: Addressing These Challenging Times

President Letterhead

Dear Howard University Community,

Recent months have cast a long shadow as the pandemic continues its deadly toll on the nation ravaging Black, Brown and Native American communities in particular.   And in the midst of such anguish, the images of Black Americans treated without humanity and – in some cases – brutalized in the last moments of their earthly lives’ triggers waves of emotion including staggering grief and righteous anger.   

This constant attack on the Black experience must end.

I am the proud father of two precocious teenagers.  Like many parents we have very purposely had “The Talk” – the unwelcome but necessary conversation about how to prepare for engagement with law enforcement. Watching these modern-day examples of social injustice and unrest in the presence of my 15-year-old son has brought up some difficult conversations. He reminded me of a time when we were heading to campus and were pulled over. I personally don’t recall all the details of that stop. However, my son vividly remembers the anger he felt as a result of the interaction. Upon seeing the news out of Minneapolis, he turned to me and asked, “Dad, should I just fall to the ground if a cop approaches me?” Praying for the right words to say, I told him that he should remain calm and try to express himself to the best of his ability. Yet, even after struggling through that conversation, the myriad names of innocent Black lives taken through lethal force  – young and old, men and women –  testify to the insufficiency of that advice. 

This moment of compounding crises leaves little doubt that the daily experience of so many in our community remain marked by heightened vulnerability and a likelihood to encounter deadly force at the hands of misguided individuals or those whose bigoted views betray the oaths they swore to protect and serve.  

Howard University emerged from the ashes of the American Civil War, a conflict that raised but hardly resolved the racial divide in this nation.  Firmly rooted in a promise that offered the transformative power of education to all, Howard has consistently taught that the highest use of knowledge gained at the Mecca is demonstrated in service above self; focused on addressing systematic injustices and entrenched interests antagonistic to our enjoyment of life and liberty.  Our scholars have enlightened, our physicians have healed, our lawyers have advocated, our activists have agitated, our entrepreneurs have built, our counselors have comforted, and our artists have enriched even life itself.

Our nation would be a shadow of itself and remain as imperfect as it was at its inception without the contributions of Howard University and all it stands for. 

In the context of current events there must always be accountability for all found responsible through a fair and thorough investigation so that justice is served. Yet even as we see individual perpetrators on our screens, we must remain mindful that the distorted worldviews and ugly biases have too often been codified into inequitable or predatory systems are equally culpable.  The book of Ephesians reminds us “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

We were born for such a time as this. And I am convinced that institutions like Howard University are destined to continue to build, mold and train the leaders who will help bring needed change to the structures of our society.

No pandemic, no declining economy, no period of prosperity, and no cure for every medical ailment will undo or hide the realities of the Black experience. We must bring consistency to that struggle and focus our intellect and passion daily to prepare for the hard work that must be done to confront evil and systematic oppression. 

As students: remain vigilant about your studies. You are matriculating through Howard University for a purpose that is greater than yourselves. You are the hope of our ancestors and despite the new challenges that will come our way, each day that you remain resolved to focus on your destiny is a day that brings us closer to resolution to many of our world’s dilemmas.

As faculty: continue to focus our energies and concern on our students so that they would be nurtured, thrive and excel. We all are intricately woven into the fabric of the Howard University legacy.  Keep researching, writing, and speaking out to craft solutions to the contemporary challenges we face.  We must be diligent in our work and conversations with students to hear and walk with them through these trying times. 

Let’s not forget that we are all living these experiences in our daily lives outside of Howard. It is everywhere that we are. Let’s first start by not looking past each other wherever we may be and work on actively loving each other. 

In this moment it is necessary to grieve over another life taken unnecessarily and those who loved him who are now broken and left behind to mourn.  It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel numb. Stay there as long as you need to. I encourage you to take those feelings and channel them into something durable. Write about it. Sing about it. Participate in the electoral process and vote about it. 

We must remember the names of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor and the countless other lives gone too soon.  

We can honor their memories through a life of purpose in confronting and correcting those skewed systems until they respect the humanity and inherent dignity in each of us.

Excellence in Truth and Service,

Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA