Marker where Bertha Looney and the Memphis State 8 fought racial injustice

No, this isn’t a message from that president. This one. Being a black woman with friends of all races, I feel it is important for me to address racial injustice.

As the president of the national alumni association of my alma mater, I was honored to share a message of strength, unity and resilience to a beautifully diverse group of student athletes. They had marched to the marker honoring the first black students to integrate the University of Memphis.

Addressing Students Marching for Racial Injustice

I had the honor of speaking first and introducing Bertha Looney. Bertha was one of the eight brave students who endured ridicule to open doors for students like me to get an education, be a campus leader, and make a difference in the world.

Standing next to me as I spoke was my granddaughter. I faced the beautifully diverse crowd of student athletes and coaching staff who were demonstrating that they cared about the racial injustice they had witnessed with the murder of George Floyd. And they wanted to make a difference. I thanked them for taking their time on a Sunday morning when students weren’t even on campus due to COVID-19 to demonstrate they stood for change.

I challenged them to call out racism whenever they saw it. To use their influence to educate their friends and family. And I begged them to keep fighting so that my granddaughter standing next to me would not experience an ounce of the racism we were still fighting.

Still figthing…60 years after Bertha Looney, also standing next to me, had already fought.

Marker where Bertha Looney and the Memphis State 8 fought racial injustice

 

When Bertha spoke, she shared her story with a smile. Although it had been painful for her, as she has shared with me personally and publicly, she was optimistic looking at the amazing students who stood before us. Her poise and her strength as she spoke made me reflect on the poise and strength that she had to display every day as one of only eight black students on the campus…ever.

 

Continuing the Fight for Racial Justice

Today, I have received two Distinguished Alumni Awards, was Miss University of Memphis and am the current President of the National Alumni Association. I was also just asked to join the University of Memphis Board of Visitors as well as a newly formed committee, the Eradicating Systemic Racism and Promoting Social Justice Initiative.

We have come a long way, but recent blatant racial injustice has shown the entire world that we have a long way to go. Our youth play a major role in creating the change we need.

From positive protests to critical conversations, I have been moved by the courageous and caring acts of students across the country. But many of our students don’t know what to do during these challenging times.

 

What can you do to support students who want to make a difference?

  1. Encourage students to identify someone of a different race who helped to make their educational journey possible and find a way to thank them or their families if they are no longer living.
  2. Are organized conversations about race or social justice taking place (even virtually)? Encourage young people to attend and invite someone of a different race to attend as well. Or start the conversations if they aren’t happening.
  3. Share books and movies for students that discuss racial injustices to help youth of all races understand the history of race issues in America and how it impacts where we are today.
  4. Encourage students to eliminate assumptions and to stay curious. Share ideas on ways to learn about students who are different from them.
  5. Encourage students to speak up when they witness their friends exhibiting behavior they don’t agree with.

 

And here’s a very comprehensive list of ways you or your students can impact change and improve race relations on your campus and in your community.

Need help with these conversations or helping students to be more resilient in the midst of increased racial tension? Check out how I can help!