A Message from President Kington

June 01, 2020

Dear Grinnellians,

Like most of you, I have struggled to make sense of yet another horrible death of a person of color in this land of self-evident truths. The growing civil unrest following the death of George Floyd has added another layer of complexity to this tragedy. As so many parents have over the centuries of racial inequality in this country, I cannot help but wonder about the world my two African American boys will face and what I can do to protect them. I know that I was not the only parent who could not sleep last night.

I have thought much over the weekend about the civil unrest that followed the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. I was a 7-year-old living in Baltimore, one of the cities that erupted with riots, looting, and violence for several days. I remember seeing National Guard soldiers running with pointed bayonets through my backyard in pursuit of young people who, in their anger and grief, had looted and set fire to a group of small neighborhood stores a block from my home. The city closed down with curfews and limits on all but emergency travel. 

I remember seeing my father leave our home the day after the worst of the civil unrest as if it was like any other day. What I so admired about my father was his laser focus on the task at hand; at the work he was called to do. He was determined to see patients at his office in one of the neediest sections of the city and to make every house call as planned no matter what. At that time, all physicians in Baltimore were issued a small white metal plate by the police department with a blue cross and the word “Physician” to place in the car window. This allowed  physicians to park anywhere when attending to an emergency. It was well known that many physicians abused the use of the plate. The only time I ever saw my father use that plate was that morning when he placed it in his car window so that he could get through the police barriers to reach his patients and his office.

In the midst of pain and unrest, my father continued with the work of caring for those who needed the most assistance and doing what he could to improve the lives of those who were most vulnerable.

I know that each of us will respond in different ways to the injustices and the unrest. Many of you may be hurting and angry, and our current isolation from each other only makes this harder to bear.

I hope that each of us can reflect on what we can do to improve the lives of those who are most vulnerable and then act in ways that are true to ourselves and to all that we value as Grinnellians. I plan to honor the life of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and so many others by focusing even more on the core mission of this College, which is deeply rooted in the belief that knowledge can change the human condition, in the belief that knowledge grounded in values and transformed into action is indeed the only way to change our world.

Raynard S. Kington

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