Shackleford's message on fostering a safe, diverse, and inclusive culture

ASHEBORO (June 8, 2020)

As President of Randolph Community College and as a citizen of our nation, I cannot remain silent in a time as consequential as this.

People are hurting. RCC students are hurting. RCC faculty and staff are hurting. People in our community are hurting. I am hurting. Where am I and where is RCC on these matters?

It hurts to see our nation continue to enable a breach of humanity that has plagued us for centuries. In 1776, our Declaration of Independence declared that “all men are created equal.” In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation declared that “all persons held as slaves are and henceforward shall be free.” In 1964, the Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. And yet, after all of that, in 2020, we still have the unlawful public killing of George Floyd in broad daylight, seen on video by an entire shocked nation and world.

It is not politics that makes this a matter of grave concern. It is a matter of decency and basic humanity. How does a civilized nation, and especially one professing Christian values, continue to categorize people as them and us, the clean and the unclean, the worthy and the unworthy, and to give privilege to some while denying the most basic human rights and dignity to others, based on ignorant prejudices related to the color of their skin? At stake is the very soul of our nation.

It causes me excruciating grief to recognize that the systemic dehumanization of black people that “justified” the institution of slavery and fueled the Jim Crow era practice of public lynching is still embedded in the fabric of our nation. Even in the greatest nation in the world, racism and bigotry persist to this day. I join in the stand against racism, support full justice and equality for black people, and call for every person to be treated with humanity, dignity, and brotherhood.

For a long time, I did not see myself as benefiting from white privilege. I grew up very poor, living in a tiny trailer, lacking fashionable clothes, eating fried spam and canned pinto beans. The term white privilege never resonated with me at all. But now I understand my naïveté! Even in my simple, austere upbringing, I never had to experience hardship based on the color of my skin. I vividly remember as a boy that there were “Coloreds Only” and “Whites Only” restrooms, water fountains, schools, restaurants, and neighborhoods. I’ve never been followed in a store because I was white. I’ve never been regarded as “suspicious” walking down the sidewalk or driving down the street just because I was white. I’ve never had to give my children “the talk” about how they will be viewed and treated differently in school and society solely because of the color of their skin.

Black people are justifiably distraught and enraged, not just by the George Floyd incident, but by a 400-year recurring pattern of prejudicial, inhumane treatment. And people of all races and nationalities are now saying, “Enough!” While no one approves of the violence that some have resorted to during the protests, many have put the masses of peaceful protesters in the same category with them, considering them all to be thugs, looters, and terrorists, without any attempt to comprehend why, after centuries of these basic injustices, there would be such an emotional outpouring of deep-seeded anger, frustration, agony, and grief. As the protesters have reasonably said, peace will come to our nation when there is justice for all.

Not all black people, not all white people, not all protestors, and not all police can be categorized or judged in one fell swoop. We are a multiracial, multicultural society and must learn to live together in harmony, peace, and brotherhood, offering the best of ourselves and bringing out the best in one another. If America is going to thrive, it must thrive for all of us. We are a great nation, but we can do better...we must do better...I pray we will do better.

Thirteen years ago, Randolph Community College adopted a Civility Policy. We made a very deliberate commitment to be a civil campus with a culture of inclusiveness and respect for all. We want every person who steps on our campus to know that we will treat all with honor and dignity. We celebrate diversity and the unique value of each individual. All are welcome. Whoever you are, you are enough; you are worthy! Racism, sexism, xenophobia, and any other kind of discrimination will not be tolerated on our campus.

Your presence among us will not be just reluctantly permitted, but rather, your presence will be celebrated. We welcome and gladly serve people of all races, national origins, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, religious affiliations, and political persuasions. We believe that education is the great equalizer, giving amazing opportunities to all people, regardless of who they are or where they came from, to live a better life with better career and economic advantages.

The words of the Declaration of Independence declare a sacred principle: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We truly believe these words and will abide by them.

I have no control over the affairs of the nation or the hearts of individual people, but to the best of my ability, I will assure that Randolph Community College will be a place where you will experience inclusion, respect, dignity, equality, and honor.

Creating Opportunities. Changing Lives.

Robert S. Shackleford, Jr., Ph.D.
President, Randolph Community College