Opening Remarks for "What Just Happened? Race, Justice, and Politics after the Capitol Siege"

Provost Ann E. Cudd's Opening Remarks

Panel Discussion: What Just Happened? Race, Justice, and Politics after the Capitol Siege

Martin Luther King Jr. Day – Monday, January 18, 2021


Good afternoon. 

Today we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The timing of our national observance could not be more poignant given the deeply troubling events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and the high hope we must maintain for our democracy.

Martin Luther King said “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

It was and IS history unfolding before our eyes—tragically—as our capitol was infiltrated and violently tarnished and the symbols of racism and white supremacy so brazenly displayed.

The Capitol Siege was a stunningly terrifying day. Martin Luther King’s mentor Howard Thurman spoke presciently of this eventuality when he said: “During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism.”

We are a people at the brink of war with each other, violently at odds over the nature of patriotism and the meaning of democracy. 

That just a week after the capitol siege, a presidential impeachment has resulted, and that the inauguration of a new president and vice president will take place in just two more days gives us hope that we can come back from the brink. 

But we must not rely on our elected leaders, many of whom have failed us, we should all consider what we have learned and how can we go forward to protect and strengthen our democracy.

In a year when people of color, and Black Americans in particular have met unprecedented and highly painful and frightening challenges, in a year when COVID-19 has brought into high relief the huge disparities we have long known yet allowed to persist, and in a year when the trauma of watching our political leaders betray their oaths of office, hide in fear, or rise to protect their colleagues—and the great uncertainty, still with us today, of what could come next—it is critical to reflect, to breathe deeply and deliberately, to learn, and to always remember the wisdom of those who have charted paths of peace and equity.

It is in that spirit that we can come together today for this discussion. 

For it is the core mission of a university to serve as a place to convene in order to examine, analyze, and understand the world around us. We come together to open our eyes and our hearts to evidence, to speak truth, and deliberate on the means to justice and peace.

And it reminds me that only in a democratic society are we able to assemble to share the diverse perspectives of our panelists and with each other.

We have brilliant panelists to share their observations with us.

I want to particularly thank John Wallace, Vice Provost for Diversity and Development for working quickly and wonderfully to create this event with today’s co-hosts: James Huguley, Interim Director of the Center on Race and Social Problems and Paula Davis, Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Health Sciences.

This academic year, the University of Pittsburgh renewed and tremendously advanced its commitment to racial justice and to anti-racist work. Many efforts are well under way.

You may be familiar with the new course (required of all first-year students and available to the community at large) which explores the origins of anti-Black racism. That is one strong step forward. 

The Center on Race and Social Problems and the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion are core components of the University’s efforts to support this work for the public good.

As well, John Wallace and his team in the Office of the Provost are building amazing initiatives with partners across campuses. 

We are committed to elevating and celebrating Pitt’s talented Black faculty, students, and staff members. We are committed to making our community dynamically diverse, inclusive, and just.

The results of our conversations and work together will be—I hope and trust—a vision grounded in social justice and understanding; a vision that we must model for our nation.

In short: A vision that would make the great man we honor today proud—of each of us and of our country.

We can strive—and fulfill Martin Luther King’s passionate plea: “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”