On October 23rd of this year, Duke University once again showed its true colors. A cowardly individual defaced a flyer that hung in White Lecture Hall that advertised an impending lecture by Black Lives Matter activist Patrice Cullors. The words “No Niggers” were written on the flyer for all to see, offering yet another warning to the Black students of Duke that they are not welcome on the University’s campus.
Upon hearing about the defacement of the flyer, and later seeing it with my own eyes, I was angry, but I was not in the slightest bit surprised. I thought back to the spring of that year, when I decided to attend Duke instead of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. I knew that in making that decision, I was placing myself in the midst of a significantly more racially polarized and tense environment. Yet, I forced myself to remember that racism is everywhere in this country; it simply varies in how explicitly it presents itself. I reminded myself of the resources and opportunities that would be at my disposal as a Duke student. I recalled my spiritual convictions – that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And with these things in mind, I took a leap of faith.
Almost immediately after I learned the poster had been defaced, I found myself recalling the conversation that I had had with my parents when I told them that I had made the decision to attend Duke. They, as any sane Black parent would be, were concerned following the noose incident that had occurred on campus just weeks before I made my decision. I told them that I would not allow the actions of racist ignoramuses to dictate the course I took with my education. I assured them that I would be fine. Yet, with the poster defacement, the seeming apathy of the Duke Administration to yet another racist act, and the countless offensive comments on anonymous social media platforms such as Yik Yak, I would be lying if I said that, at times, I didn’t find myself second-guessing my decision.
Attending Patrice Cullors’ event on October 28th re-affirmed that I had indeed made that the right decision in attending Duke. It wasn’t only Cullors’ speech itself that gave me this sense of assurance, however. It was the affinity – the shared sense of purpose that I felt with so many of my Black brothers and sisters that were sitting with me in the audience. I looked to the person sitting next to me, and saw one of my best friends from high school, Kalif Jeremiah. I looked to the person sitting in front of me, and saw the President of the Black Student Alliance, and one of my mentors here at Duke, Henry Washington. I looked around at my beautiful Black family, and realized that all of my brothers and sisters had, just like me, taken a leap of faith when deciding to attend Duke. I was sure that many of them had, like me, felt the same aching sense of disappointment and anger in their chests when yet another act of racial hatred and violence had occurred on their school’s campus. Yet, as we stood with one another, both literally and figuratively, and followed Cullors’ lead in shouting the words: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom!” and “We must love each other, and support each other!” I felt the aching pain in my chest quickly transform into a warm sense of joy and pride.
Every time that I look back on Patrice Cullors’ event, I am reminded that no matter how often racist ignoramuses attempt to silence the voices and suffocate the spirits of Black and Brown people, both here at Duke and around the country, they would not succeed. We will continue to fight for our freedom with megaphones to our mouths, with conviction in our eyes, and with passion in our hearts. In times of doubt, we must think back to the shared leaps of faith that we took when deciding to spend four years at this deeply flawed institution in Durham, North Carolina. And we must allow that very same conviction to guide us as we continue to fight the good fight for social justice.