Hundreds gather for virtual Memorial Service Against Racism hosted by Churchwell

Hundreds watched a Memorial Service Against Racism on June 29 organized by Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer André L. Churchwell to honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and the countless lives lost due to anti-Black racism and police brutality in the United States.

To adhere to physical distancing protocols, the memorial service was broadcast on the university’s YouTube channel.

“We know that this memorial must be followed by action. We know that words alone are not enough. I’m committed to working with our community and leveraging our unique strengths as a research institution to take action,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, who spoke at the memorial, said. “The answers are not quick and they are not easy, but finding them and mapping our next steps is urgent, and we will begin this work today.”

Two days after the memorial, Diermeier, Wente and Churchwell released a joint statement highlighting steps the university plans to take to promote inclusion and support Black students, faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows and alumni.

“The death of George Floyd may have been the recent seminal event to trigger a new set of discussions, governmental actions, protests and earnest action at universities like Vanderbilt,” Churchwell said during the memorial. “Yet those of us of a certain age have seen unfortunately too many George Floyd incidents take place, each not leading to substantive deep changes in our court system or culture to extinguish racism both personally directed and structural. Many of us believe this time appears different; it appears to have more energy and certainly more allies to assist Black and Brown people to work to resolve this deeply ingrained original sin of America.”

The memorial also included a moment of silence to recognize and honor Black people killed by racial injustice. The moment of silence was led by Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente, who gave remarks acknowledging the importance of recognizing the university’s own racist history and emphasized the importance of combatting racism. “To address the racist components of society, it’s not enough to just say ‘no’ to racism, we must be actively anti-racist,” she said. “Now more than ever we need to draw on our strengths, especially our strength as an institution of scholarship and discovery, to support our Black community and to offer meaningful ways to help one another heal and make true change possible.”

In addition to remarks from university leaders, Professor of the Practice of Ministry Forrest E. Harris Sr., who serves as director of the Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Church Studies and is the president of American Baptist College in Nashville, offered an interfaith prayer of hope.

Several others also were present for the memorial service, including Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Dean of Residential Faculty Vanessa Beasley, Assistant Dean of Residential Colleges and Director of the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center Rosevelt Noble, Vice Provost for Academic Advancement and Executive Director of the Provost’s Office for Inclusive Excellence William H. Robinson, and Association of Vanderbilt Black Alumni President Valerie Williams.