Speeches & Commentary

“Ring Their Names” Vigil

Hillman Hall

After George Floyd’s death, his brother Terrence Floyd requested for all to ring his name, which is the reason we are here today — to mourn the tragic killing of George Floyd, Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Tony McDade, the named, and those names and stories unknown — and to use their deaths as a chance to reflect, move, and act. Thank you for joining us for this time to gather together as a community that abhors racial violence and uplifts the values of racial equity and inclusion.

While I cannot pretend to fully understand the feelings of sadness, outrage, and horror our colleagues, students, friends, and family members of color must be experiencing during this time, I must admit that I myself have been in a constant state of grief these past few months and especially these past two weeks as I think about the ways both this pandemic and the systems we have in place serve to increase disparity, inequality, and black death rather than minimize the gap we’ve been working centuries to close. 

I grieve for all people of color, but right now in this moment especially I grieve for our Black community — our Black colleagues, students, friends, and family members who continue to be targets of hate, racism, and police violence.  I grieve for Black individuals who leave their homes in fear. I grieve for the Black adolescent youth trying to make sense of their identities and actions in this era of injustice.  I grieve for the Black children who must learn how to interact with authorities in a way they should never have to.  I grieve for the Black mothers and fathers who have pits in their stomach at the sight of any unknown phone call — those who can’t rest or sleep until they know their children are safe in their homes.  I grieve for my Black colleagues and our Black students who are members of this community and experience burdens everyday that I cannot begin to imagine.  I grieve for a society divided and polarized by these issues — a society hungry for change yet paralyzed by political division.  

I grieve for these things and so much more.  And mixed with that grief are feelings of outrage, sickness, and despair.  Yet, I know that these feelings are part of the entire process, and they are part of the recipe for change — the fuel keeping many of us moving forward and demanding change and action. 

Here at Washington University, many of us are mourning, and many of us feel angry and helpless.  And in this moment I challenge us to channel that energy toward the greater good.  I challenge us not to sit for too long in our grief and instead to stand up to racial injustice and be the leaders of change — all while we undoubtedly continue to experience feelings of loss.  As I said in my statement earlier this week, “we must take action.  This includes not only supporting our community, but also doing what is at the core of our mission: leveraging our activities in support of research, teaching, and patient care to make a difference in helping to forward the cause of racial and social justice in our community, our region, and around the world.”

Many of you are already standing up.  You are on the front lines of protest.  You are calling your community leaders and volunteering for community positions.  You are writing new policies and organizing forums.  You are pointing out inequality and disparity in the classroom and through your research.  You are providing compassionate service and patient care to those who lack proper access.  And you are talking with your children about race and injustice.  

I’m extremely honored to be part of a community where many are actively in pursuit of these and other initiatives.  And now it is time to do even more — to double down on our efforts and continue to uplift our mission to improve lives as we work to enact change in the region and throughout the world. 

At Washington University, this is how we will continue to ring George Floyd’s name.  As Chancellor, I can promise you that we will do our best to ring his name as loudly as we possibly can to ensure the arc bends toward justice.  And we will not stop ringing until justice wins.  

Thank you again for being with us, and thanks especially to our colleagues and students who have helped contribute to today’s event.  And now I’d like to invite our speakers to share a few words.