Dear members of the Kenyon College community,
Eleven months ago, many of us watched in horror as George Floyd, a Black man, was brutally killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Today, a jury found that officer, Derek Chauvin, guilty of all charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
My emotions run strong. I continue to feel anger over the brutal act of violence; fear for the safety of friends and family; and frustration that, in the 11 months since we witnessed Mr. Floyd’s death, the system has not only resisted reformation but also continued to take the lives of Black people. But I also feel a new sense of hope that justice is possible.
I have heard from many of you during the course of the trial that you share a similar mix of feelings. If you are looking for a space to process the verdict with others, please join Dean Chris Kennerly and Chaplains Marc Bragin and Rachel Kessler at Allen House tonight from 6–8 p.m. In addition, I invite you to join a session of reflection and mutual support with students, faculty and staff from the Five Colleges of Ohio tomorrow, April 21, from 4–6 p.m.; register here to receive details and a link to the session. You also may reach out to any of the resources we have here at Kenyon for individual guidance and support: Chaplains Marc Bragin and Rachel Kessler, the Cox Counseling Center, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Office for Civil Rights and the Ombuds Office.
In convicting Derek Chauvin of murder, the jurors in this case delivered an unprecedented verdict. Never before has a white police officer been held responsible for the killing of a Black citizen in Minnesota. But the circumstances that led to Mr. Floyd’s death — the systems of oppression, the deeply ingrained biases, and the senseless brutality that is their result — are anything but unprecedented. If justice was served today, the difficult work to overturn an unjust system remains.
Last year, I invited us to sit with our sadness and anger, and then to push past it. While we should not deny our anger, we should also try to find hope. In the verdict today, I find hope. In the past year, we have demonstrated enormous resilience; in witnessing that resilience, I find hope. Our history is replete not only with examples of racist violence, subjugation and oppression, but also with examples of strength, courage and triumph in the face of injustice; in learning that history of strength, courage and triumph, I find hope.
We have the capacity to shape a more just future, here at Kenyon and in our broader community. A vision of a just future may begin with our anger, then may be driven and inspired by our hope. But movement towards that vision requires us to examine with rigor our own positions of bias and power, to move beyond self-examination to empathy, and to move from empathy to action. For many of us, this work can and should begin at Kenyon, and while we have taken steps on this process this year, there is still much to be done.
We have endured much this past year. But it is our privilege and responsibility to do more than simply endure.