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A couple of days ago, I read an opinion piece in the DP by a wonderful, thoughtful student — Titus Adkins — who used his powerful voice to posit some queries to me and to other members of the Penn community. I commend Titus for the strength and passion in his piece. I also, with every core of my being, disagree with a number of his assertions.

As a child, and over and over through these many years, I read James Baldwin, who wrote, in 1966: “This means that I also know, in my own flesh, and know, which is worse, in the scars borne by many of those dearest to me, the thunder and fire of the billy club, the paralyzing shock of spittle in the face, and I know what it is to find oneself blinded, on one’s hands and knees, at the bottom of the flight of steps down which one has just been hurled.” My grandparents came to the United States in the 1920s as partners to Marcus Garvey, from Jamaica, to work actively in the Black Nationalist movement. I have spent all of my years, in both my professional life, and as my personal passion, in active service to their legacy to foment permanent change — at Penn, in the city of Philadelphia, and in the nation, through ardent action.

I, and many, many, many others at this University, not only over these past, terrible hours but, indeed, for many years: students, faculty, administration and staff — have not only voiced our ardent, constant and active condemnation of the brutal killings of black and brown people, indeed, the brutal killings of all people who sought only to live their lives, and to be able to love those whom they love — only to be cut down, in the space of seconds — but we have also spoken out, and acted, to do absolutely everything we could think of to provide comfort, care, compassion and support to all.

It happens that I am an African American woman, the mother of two Penn alumni, and the grandmother of eight (including six grandsons and two granddaughters); it happens that I have devoted myself to actively caring about Penn and all of our students. Penn is my home also, and that is why I also have used my voice and work both to be critical, because I also want it to be better, but also, because: “I also know, in my own flesh”, the ache of my heart, the constant throbbing of my breast, every time we call another name lost to violence.

I do agree with Titus on another, important, point: action is the imperative, and I call on all of us to continue every single action we can think of that will foment change.

Baldwin, even earlier in 1960, wrote another phrase that has been seared into my soul:

“One day, to everyone’s astonishment, someone drops a match in the powder keg and everything blows up. Before the dust has settled or the blood congealed, editorials, speeches, and civil-rights commissions are loud in the land, demanding to know what happened.”

My own opinion, as someone who knows and is also living, in my own flesh, through these chilling and challenging times, is that I challenge us all to continue our activism, including activism to support our community. I expect that the editorials, speeches and commissions will continue, just as Titus’ thought-provoking piece challenged the community today. But other actions are imperatives: bringing people to caring resources, self- and community- care, daily affirmations of the worth and value of all, including everything possible to ensure that our University is a safe space for love, dissent, compassion, dissonance and grace.

However, I would like to offer to any one of you reading my note today, just as I have through every single day of my Penn life, an opportunity:

Let us know exactly what else I, and we, can do to help better ensure that Penn, our home, feels safe for each of you.

My own opinion is that Gil Scott-Heron was right when he sang the following:

“I know you’ve been hurt by someone else / I can tell by the way you carry yourself / But if you let me, here’s what I’ll doI’ll take care of you

I’ve loved and I lost the same as you / So you see I know just what you’ve been through / And if you let me, here’s what I’ll do / I’ll take care of you

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