Kettering College Response to National Tragedies
Kettering College Response to National Tragedies
June 4, 2020
Many compelling statements have been published* condemning the national tragedies of the murders of George Floyd by white police officers in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor by police officers in Louisville, and Ahmaud Arbery by white civilians. When I set out to write of this to you, this is what came forth.
Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church, the home church of Wanda Mae Jackson’s family, is located at 71st and Western in Los Angeles. It was an hour’s drive from where I lived while in high school. Over the years I went there regularly to sing with the a cappella group that featured our religion teacher Tony Gene “Free” Freeman, the fifth of eighteen children of Mrs. Jackson. Those visits included a somber date in May of 1992, the first service held at Ephesus after LA had been gripped by days of violent unrest that began four blocks from the church and claimed more than 60 lives.
The short drive to Ephesus from UCLA, where I was then a graduate student, transported me to what seemed to be a different world and brought me face to face with my family of God and the family and community of my good friend and mentor. A family that was grieving.
I will never, ever forget the words of anguish, anger, and loss that were spoken in Ephesus that day. One member shared the pain of losing his job as a janitor because the building where he worked had been burned down. His story opened new vistas in my mind to perceive the vast and vastly evil consequences of injustice – including the injustice of white police officers pulling Rodney King from a car and beating him with impunity.
More than a quarter-century has since passed. Meanwhile, too little has changed for too many. I think about my own identity and life experience in that context. I think about the fact that, after listening to the visceral pain expressed by my brothers and sisters in Christ at Ephesus, I returned to my university laboratory and continued my scientific research.
I think about the inestimable blessing and privilege I have experienced every day from that day to this one, teaching, working and leading in colleges and universities – and I wonder if the fundamental forces on earth that carried me to a college presidency are the same as the forces that transformed the beating of a black Los Angeles motorist by white police officers into a God-fearing janitor being unable to provide for his family. And I wonder what influence I have over those forces.
Anna May Vaughan, the founding academic dean of Kettering College, wrote in her memoirs about faculty who regularly asked each other, “are we meeting God’s expectations of us for our students?” In many cases, I am cautious about presuming to understand God’s expectations, but fortunately, in this context, I have the guidance given to us by Jesus in chapter 13 of the Gospel of John: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
As a member of our learning community, I can practice the teachings of these two masters and, when I fall short, take courage in the strength that God gives me to pick up and try again.
As the president of our learning community, I must do more than this.
First, I must also ensure that we have the capacities and capabilities to pursue our mission. That mission is to educate students to make a life of service through health care. Excellent, faith-informed service. Service to people. All people. This requires on the part of the college a robust system of diversity and inclusion policies and programs, targets, and metrics. I know that Kettering College has people who care deeply about diversity and inclusion. I pledge to work with you to enhance our capacities and capabilities.
Second, I must also ensure that we are effective in delivering on the promise of our mission. As a college, we cannot educate for excellent, faith-informed service to all without ourselves practicing excellent, faith-informed service to all at a significantly higher level than that we expect to inculcate in our students.
If we are to achieve our potential we will need to work together – throughout Kettering College and throughout Kettering Health Network. We will join forces with our clinical enterprise to elevate diversity and inclusion at KHN by combining the thinking and learning strengths of our college with the energy and the might of our health care network – over 14,000 physicians and employees strong.
I have found it impossible to describe to you my intentions and my commitments to our college community without framing an organizational imperative in starkly personal terms. I think that is because, at the heart of the matter, this is a personal matter for me. I hope that it is a personal matter for you too and that you will join me in working to make our world a better place by making Kettering College a better place. I believe that, with a shared vision and hard work, we can influence the forces that shape the narratives in our community and beyond.
President of Kettering College
*Kettering College Affiliates Statements: