When I was a junior at Rockhurst University, the school opened a new science building on campus. Several organizations made contributions to the facility. I was a member of our Black Student Union (BSU). We decided to commission a painting of prominent black scientists and dedicate it to the new building.
We thought it could serve as a monument to those who had come before us and a lesson to those who would come after. Innovation, intellect and hard work can move anyone forward – even out of the most desolate, desperate situations. We raised the money and hired the artist ourselves.
There was reason for a group of 18-to-22-year-olds to feel good. Our idea had come to fruition. We were making a positive contribution to our school. Not long after the science building opened, though, it happened.
A swastika was carved into the forehead of one of the scientists in our painting. Other epithets were scratched in among the rest. We were angry and devastated. No one was ever caught, but university administrators and several alums came to our aid.
The painting was repaired, but we were forever scarred. We hardly talked about the painting afterwards. While you probably wouldn’t notice where the vandalism was, we can see it clearly.
My mind went back to Rockhurst circa 1997 when I heard about the incidents currently happening on Mizzou’s campus. Some of the chatter rang eerily familiar. Those who didn’t understand told us don’t worry about it and it wasn’t a big deal.
I don’t know all the details of each incident at Mizzou, but I do know the rage that comes with knowing you are smart enough, you are good enough, and you did work hard enough. Yet, some people still don’t want you there.
I know the screams from different voices which cry aloud the same message: See that within this dark skin is a human being. Treat me as such.
When members of Mizzou’s football team locked arms in solidarity and vowed not to play another down until certain conditions were met, they showed the power athletes wield in our society. Like it or not, Mizzou’s condition became national news the second those young men took a stand.
Athletes have the power to affect positive change in our society. They can do so much more than run, jump and throw. Make no mistake. This work will not be easy. The conversations will be hard and building up unity where there was confessed racism will be even harder.
To Mizzou: Don’t become weary in well-doing. Anything worth having is worth working for. This process is how strangers become a community and a community becomes a family.