Liberal Education

A Letter from Deval L. Patrick

Honorary Co-Chair of the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Enterprise

Race and racism have been part of America from the start. And yet, conscious of, and challenged by, the ideals of the founders, America has achieved extraordinary progress toward racial equity. Today, black and brown people can live, work, go to school, eat, play, and marry in ways that would have been unthinkable when I was born, just sixty years ago. Indeed, the election and reelection of President Barack Obama, our first African American president, was widely viewed as heralding America’s readiness for racial reconciliation.

It turns out that being ready to reconcile and actually reconciling are two different things.

Data and experience show that white families are more respected by law enforcement, have better schools for their children, and have higher paying jobs, safer neighborhoods, easier access to healthcare, and fewer environmental hazards in their communities. By contrast, people of color experience more crime and have higher unemployment, lower wages, lower performing schools, less access to healthcare, and deteriorating housing in their communities. From Baltimore and Charleston to Ferguson and other locations across the country, the great racial divide in our nation persists. Compounding these challenges, both whites and people of color are frustrated, often with little hope for the future.

Nobody believes that race explains everything wrong in everybody’s life. But racism is at the root of many of the issues we face today, and it accounts for the lack of interest in, or success of, some of the solutions. Racism lowers our economic output, limits opportunities for success, and, worst of all, pits citizen against citizen. Both conscious and unconscious assumptions about the relative competence, responsibility, and worth of other people still haunt us, creating destructive tensions and mistrust. In some communities, the slightest provocation has turned into a deadly police shooting; in others, citizens felt justified in attacking police officers just doing their job. And yet, we are challenged by too many to choose which senseless and inexcusable killing to condemn. We can do better than this because, as a nation, we are better than this. But we need to act. We need more than a conversation, more than expressions of anguish and frustration, and more surely than indifference. We need a transformation and a plan to achieve it.

That’s the objective of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) enterprise. It aims to replace any notion of a hierarchy of human value with the capacity for all of us to see each other as brothers and sisters who collectively want a better world for ourselves and our children. The TRHT enterprise envisions a nation where every life matters, where equal opportunities are available for all to reach their full potential. And TRHT is committed to implementing this vision pragmatically—street by street, block by block, city by city.

Special thanks to the Association of American Colleges and Universities for joining TRHT as one of our more than one hundred partners, and for providing us this unique opportunity both to articulate the depth of the problems our nation faces and to explore the hope and healing that TRHT can bring. The stakes are high. We want environments where we and future generations can enjoy opportunities for healthy, productive lives. Education plays a tremendous role in their trajectory, making AAC&U a natural partner in ensuring that racism won’t be a barrier to anyone.

Boldly addressing racism is an ambitious challenge for America. But ours has been a history of surmounting challenges that seemed impossible. It’s time we did so again.

Deval L. Patrick served as governor of Massachusetts from 2007 to 2015.

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