On “Black Lives Matter” | An Open Letter from Our Provost

Dear Friends,

On Tuesday, I updated my profile picture to include the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and the Black Panther symbol of the raised fist.  One of my fellow students from my undergraduate days at Nyack responded “all lives matter.”

Of course all lives do matter.  I have been deeply affected by the pain that many are feeling because of the death of their loved ones to COVID-19.  I must have sent condolences via Facebook to over 50 of you who are grieving and mourning even today.

So why do I think that it is important to align myself at this point with the Black Lives Matter movement by using their slogan?  I am deeply convinced that we, as Americans, are in a historical moment when we must confront not only the sins of racism and oppression against black people in this country, but we also must acknowledge that the silence of those of us who are white allows these incredible injustices to continue.

This coming year, if God wills, will be the fiftieth year that I have been at Nyack College, as student and faculty member.  I will be the longest serving academic officer in the College’s history.  I am very thankful that as a student I was taught about the sordid effects of racism and injustice toward blacks in American.  Tom Skinner was a regular speaker in chapel; Dr. Barbara Graymont was one of the first history professors anywhere to teach courses in African-American history; and I joined black students at memorial services for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church.  I am proud of the legacy that Nyack gave me.

And I am thankful that I continue to learn from my many colleagues at Nyack today, from the President, to the faculty and staff, who all have taught me a great deal about the injustices that blacks continue to endure in a very racist nation.

My black students, though, have taught me the most.  

I have never had white mothers cry in class because they fear for the lives of their sons.  But I have had black women do so.  

I have never had white students come to class terribly shaken because they had been profiled, arrested for no reason and then raced from the police station to get to class on time.  But I have had black students to whom this has happened.  

When I visit Nyack’s students at Fishkill Correctional Facility, I do not see many white students.  I see an overwhelming number of black men. 

And while I sent condolences to a few white alums who had lost relatives to COVID-19, most of the condolences I wrote were to black alums and students.

The great stain—sin—of slavery still infects the United States.  And until we begin by acknowledging this, our land will never be healed.  Black lives must matter in the United States.  Injustice and institutional racism toward blacks must end.

The injustice is choking me.  I CAN’T BREATHE!

I must use my breath to raise my voice and speak out against the horror enveloping the lives of so many black brothers and sisters.  And I will use my role at Nyack to ensure that we not only expose this racism and injustice, but also teach students to follow the example of our Savior and give our strength to confronting it and teaching the way of love.

Dr. David Turk