This is a uniquely defining moment in American history. In our collective lifetime, few of us have seen or could possibly imagine anything approaching the events we are witnessing on the streets of Boston, across New England, and in states and countries across the globe. What began as low-simmering protests in Minnesota has metastasized and sparked massive demonstrations, public unrest, civil disobedience and seemingly unending acts of public revolt in cities and towns across the nation and globe.
Universal feelings of disgust, anger and rage have erupted over the callous and dehumanizing murder of George Floyd, a black man whose gasping cries for air and helpless pleas for his mother went unheeded as a white police officer knelt on his neck while three of his fellow officers stood by and watched Floyd’s life poured out on a Minneapolis street. The depravity and grizzly last moments of Floyd’s life were captured on a video reminiscent of the horrific Lorraine Motel assassination video of Martin Luther King some 52 years earlier.
Issues of entrenched, systemic and institutionalized racism have long been matters of great concern in America. The brutality of slavery led to the Civil War, Reconstruction and decades of racial oppression in America. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s was a reaction to heightened racial segregation and oppression in the United States, and many people, myself included, believed the groundbreaking legislative and legal provisions enacted in the aftermath of that movement were destined to usher in a new, more open, egalitarian and just era in America.
While progress was undeniably made for many black and minority Americans in education, employment, housing and other areas of social advancements since the ’60s, deep and enduring remnants of racial injustice, police brutality and economic inequality remain in urban centers and rural pockets of the country. George Floyd’s death contemporized this reality in America, and people from all walks of life identified with his humanity and grieved for his suffering and brutal death. In response, they joined together in a collective wave of action focused on advancing equality, racial justice and social change across the nation.
America now stands with the eyes of the world upon it. It is, in many ways, a moment of truth in which our country is again being tested to see how it will respond to yet another historic challenge to its system of government, the world’s oldest, continuously active codified constitution, predicated on equality and the unalienable belief that all men are created equal. In these challenging and uncertain times, I turn to Abraham Lincoln who said, “It is a sin to be silent when it is your duty to protest.”
Charles F. Desmond is CEO of Inversant, the largest parent-centered children’s saving account initiative in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He is past chair of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education and since 2011, has served as a NEBHE senior fellow. Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash.