Newark college president: Black lives still matter

In the summer of 2016, the killing of black youths in Minnesota and Louisiana and subsequent killing of five policemen in Dallas brought to the fore the “Black Lives Matter” theme. At that time, I wrote a piece called “Black Lives Matter.” Then and now, it is an antagonizing and contentious phrase that fuels the racial fire that has been scorching our land since the shooting of Michael Brown, which occurred Aug. 9, 2014. Regardless of one’s views on race, “black lives matter” evokes great emotion.

Pillar College
David E. Schroeder is president of Pillar College, based in Newark.

A common refrain is, “Of course black lives matter; all lives matter.” And, when that response is given, the anger index rises all the more in many black people. And most white people don’t get it.

I believe “black lives matter” needs to be understood in context. For many white Americans, for many years, black lives didn’t matter. No one ever had to say, “white lives matter,” because that was never an issue. The underlying clarion call of “black lives matter” is to declare to insensitive communities that historically have discriminated against and undervalued African Americans that they are wrong. Black lives do matter.

So, in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, what black lives matter? Hundreds of thousands of black first responders, health care givers, small business owners, schoolteachers, Christian leaders like George Floyd, and every black life created in God’s image. And these wonderful black lives are victims, like everyone else, of the senseless criminal acts and violence being done using the killing of “Big Floyd” as justification to vent their anger and pain. Unfortunately, many who act under that slogan through rioting, looting and vandalism ruin a noble cause by their shameful expression.

How very, very sad for the millions of all shades of flesh. How very, very sad for America. How very, very sad for the memory of George Floyd, as riots may have taken the attention off Floyd’s tragic death and off the great person he was. However, there are many peaceful protests occurring in this country and around the world, and I offer this tribute from Christianity Today magazine, from May 28:

The rest of the country knows George Floyd from several minutes of cell phone footage captured during his final hours. But in Houston’s Third Ward, they know Floyd for how he lived for decades — a mentor to a generation of young men and a “person of peace.”

Before moving to Minneapolis for a job opportunity through a Christian work program, the 46-year-old spent almost his entire life in the historically black Third Ward, where he was called “Big Floyd” and regarded as an “OG,” a de facto community leader and elder statesmen, his ministry partners say.

Floyd spoke of breaking the cycle of violence he saw among young people and used his influence to bring outside ministries to the area to do discipleship and outreach, particularly in the Cuney Homes housing project, locally known as “the Bricks.”

“George Floyd was a person of peace sent from the Lord that helped the gospel go forward in a place that I never lived in,” said Patrick PT Ngwolo, pastor of Resurrection Houston, which held services at Cuney.

The Christianity Today article continues (click here); I encourage you to read the rest. Regardless of his Christian faith and ministry, his murder is a terrible tragedy. No one deserves to die that way. And at the hands (knee) of a police officer — can there be a worse evidence of the terrible corruption of a human heart? And now the soul of our nation, which is already reeling over the loss of over 100,000 citizens in the past few months due to COVID, is deeply wounded again.

I would image Big Floyd would be the last person to want to see the violence and destruction being waged as an outbreak after his death. But I also imagine he would be marching in every rally that is peacefully calling attention to the brutality often waged against black men. As a believer, I mourn his loss as a person made in God’s image; I mourn his loss because of the way it happened; and I mourn his loss because he was a warrior for the Kingdom of God. God, help us.

But for another reason, I support “black lives matter,” referring not just to the survival of black people, but to their quality of life. Working in the city of Newark in a college that is 45% black, I am deeply committed to serving the underserved with accredited, Christ-centered education. It matters to me that my students — my friends, my sisters and brothers — have every opportunity to enhance their spiritual, professional and economic lives. As a community of people historically marginalized, many African Americans and others have attended poor-quality public schools that have not prepared them well for college. But, given a chance, many of them are eager learners. Their black lives matter a great deal to me.

Christian people, can we not all agree that “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” was not given just for Jews and caucasians? To Him who said this and who is the Truth — absolutely, black lives matter.

David E. Schroeder is president of Pillar College, based in Newark. Pillar College is a multisite campus in Newark, Somerset, Plainfield and Paterson. It enrolls approximately 600 students in its associate, undergraduate and graduate degree programs.