Black lives matter. It is a fact – Black Americans have recognized this even in the face of a 400-year legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, history suppression and redaction, and a carceral system designed and used to diminish and destroy Black bodies.
Although “Black lives matter” has been a difficult sequence of words for some to articulate, Black people have continued to insist that this statement of fact be affirmed and most importantly, reflected in laws, policies, and everyday interactions. Most recently, after the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, the Black presidents and deans of schools and departments of theology and religion released a June 3, 2020, statement (“The Statement”) with a list of concrete demands that included:
- Specific changes in public policy;
- The immediate development and support for the Policing in Black and Brown Communities Initiative that will place scholars of religion in conversation with mainstream journalists; and,
- The inclusion of a specific June 2020 ATS Biennial Meeting agenda discussion among the Presidents of ATS schools about “the impact and the theological work needed to address the consistent killings of Black people.”
On June 9, 2020, the Latin@ Presidents and Deans of Seminaries of the Association of Theological Schools posted a video expressing solidarity with the demands presented in The Statement. This video response was followed by a June 17, 2020, ATS webinar Black Lives Matter: Where Do We Go From Here with panelists Drs. Emilie Townes (Vanderbilt Divinity School), Kelly Brown Douglas (Episcopal Divinity School at Union), Willie Jennings (Yale Divinity School) and Stephen Ray (Chicago Theological Seminary). The responders included Drs. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier (Asociación para la Educación Teológica Hispana [Association for Hispanic Theological Education]), Boyung Lee (Iliff School of Theology), Otis Moss III (Trinity UCC in Chicago), and Mark Young (Denver Seminary).
On June 18, 2020, Asian and Asian descent presidents and deans of the Association of Theological Schools responded (including Dean Boyung Lee) with a statement of solidarity with the Black and Latin@ presidents and deans including the specific affirmation, “we say today and every day, with one voice, BLACK LIVES MATTER!” [Emphasis supplied.] On June 22, 2020, White Deans & Presidents of ATS Member Schools and Affiliates responded (including President Tom Wolfe) with a Letter of Solidarity and Accountability. This letter included the statement: “We proclaim unequivocally: Black Lives Matter and No More Stolen Black Lives!” This letter also outlined a commitment to be held accountable to anti-racist work in their respective institutions in the following specific ways: 1) following the lead of our colleagues of color in the Association of Theological Schools, pursuing in solidarity the work of racial justice; 2) decentering whiteness, unlearning white supremacy, and reimagining theological education; 3) shouldering the ongoing work of ridding our institutions of racism; and 4) confronting the damages of whiteness and dismantling its hold on our systems and structures as central to our collective work.
On June 29, 2020, Presidents of ATS schools began to answer one of the demands of the June 3, 2020 statement by engaging in a Black Lives Matter discussion during their Biennial Meeting.
The Statement calls for more urgency in the work that Iliff began with its 50in5 Initiative on May 21, 2019. In his May 29, 2020, Remembering George Floyd message President Wolfe declared “Black lives matter” and with this declaration, he and Iliff’s senior leaders know that we must daily renew our commitment to engage in policies and practices that both demolish racism and honor Black lives. This page is created to document both a beginning and a continuation of our commitment and accountability to this vital and sacred work.