Editor’s note: Ian Solomon, dean of the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, wrote the following commentary for Medium. It appeared on the site Tuesday.
oday, again, I am overwhelmed with grief and rage.
I want to name the victims for whom I mourn and in whose names I seek justice. Names humanize and offer a face and a story and web of loving relationships, now extinguished. Names prevent us from being numbed by statistics or the anonymity of strangers.
So today, again, I honor Mr. George Floyd, Mr. Ahmaud Arbery, and Ms. Breonna Taylor. I honor their lives that ended too soon, pray for their families who will carry this grief for too long, and acknowledge their humanity as victims of an unjust system. May their memories be a blessing and an inspiration.
Of course, these victims were among the rare cases where the deaths were witnessed or caught on camera. A tragic irony is that by mentioning individual names, we both personalize our nation’s collective catastrophe and minimize it.
I also remember Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, and Trayvon Martin. I remember Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Korryn Gaines, Deborah Danner, and Philando Castile. I remember Amadou Diallo. I remember Emmett Till. I remember so many that it is hard to remember anymore.
I also remember dozens of lesser-known names, and I remember the thousands of men and women and children whose names we never will know. I want to honor them all.
I remember my own brother, Sheldon Fredric Solomon, father of three, who died in 2011 at 47 years old – my age today – from a brain injury he received in police custody.
The dehumanization of black and brown people happens again and again and again and again and again and again. … How many more unjust deaths must there be?
For the past several days, I have been speaking with students. These are my students, and I care deeply for every single one of them. Many of them – and particularly my students of color – are scared right now. They are angry. They are emotionally exhausted.
They are living through an extraordinary moment of history, with a global health pandemic, a calamitous economy, and military tanks in our streets. It is a moment of breathtaking national crises and conflict.
My students want to learn and serve. They had the courage to come to UVA after the Unite the Right White Supremacy rallies of August 2017. They came to develop their skills as ethical leaders and evidence-based policy makers. They came to tackle our critical public policy challenges and heal our democracy.
I want to give them hope to empower and inspire their future leadership. I want to protect their safety and their rights. I want to answer their questions. I want to comfort them. I want to assure them that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.
And yet there are moments when I find myself, as a black American man and the father of black teenaged sons, at a loss for words.
So, for now, I simply say to them what I say to my sons: “I believe in you. Please believe in yourselves.” Believe in the promise of this country. Believe in our human capacity to learn and change. Believe, like I do, that love is more natural and more contagious than hate even if it requires more patience, more passion, and more perseverance. Believe that we can overcome the past and together create a world where all people can thrive.
There is so much work to be done. Unspeakable violence and racism to undo. Empathy and understanding to cultivate. Healing and humanization to realize. So much work for us at the Batten School and UVA, in Charlottesville, and across this country and the world.
Yes, it is overwhelming at times. It is exhausting. It is unfair. But we will prevail because we must. We will do the hard work, have the hard conversations, make the hard choices, and support each other through hard times. I believe in you. Please believe in yourselves. Please believe in the power of us.
Day by day, protest by protest, vote by vote – it is my honor to join you in this struggle for a better world. We need each other now more than ever.