Dear Members of the Fordham Family,
Over the years, I have told our students that I want them to graduate from Fordham bothered by injustice. That word, injustice, has taken on more weight in the last several years, as many Americans have—too belatedly—come to realize how pervasive injustice is when it comes to issues of race in this country.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew it and he preached and wrote about it with painful clarity, perhaps nowhere so pointedly as in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
“… when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky…”
This was not about Justice with a capital J, nor a lofty philosophical argument (though Dr. King could make those like no one else), but a moment of shared pain between a father and daughter. It was not an occasion for analysis, but an invitation to empathy.
I believe that the ability to sit with another’s pain is what makes us fully human. To recognize that pain is to be moved to action. The struggle for full equality in our country for Black people is far from over, and perhaps has even been set back by the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected people of color. Likewise, while Fordham has made strides in combating racism and moving toward true equity and justice (thanks to many of you reading this letter), we still have much work to do.
I promise you that that work goes on. It may seem sometimes to be overshadowed by other events in the life of the University, but our resolve to live up to Fordham’s Jesuit calling to be people for others remains strong. We may best honor Dr. King by continuing his work, and by emulating his devotion to the cause of racial justice.
May God bless you all, this day and every day.
Joseph M. McShane, S.J.