Dillard People of 2020: #3 The Activists

Not only was 2020 marked by a coronavirus pandemic, it was also the year where we began looking at a racial pandemic as well. With most businesses and schools switching to a virtual environment beginning in March, everyone was at home — all the time. And since 2020 is also the designation for perfect vision, the killing of George Floyd on May 25th was clearly seen by people all around the world. Unlike the videos we have unfortunately seen all too often, this one was different. We literally watched a man die a slow death on camera, an officers knee compressing his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

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Top left, Ft. Worth TX; Top right, New Orleans; Bottom left, Minneapolis MN; Bottom right, Little Rock AR

We saw students engaged in the protests all across the country, and engaging in the work to address issues that the pandemic only amplified. Several students this year became high profile leaders during this new movement.

SGA President Traelon Rodgers was an organizer of a youth rally in Dallas. He later was a panelist for a conversation about the importance of Black men and voting, sharing the virtual stage with Dr. Freddy Haynes of Friendship-West Baptist and Alpha Phi Alpha General President Dr. Everett Ward.

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Jada Sayles was extremely active organizing and leading marches and events in Madison, Wisconsin.

She often had a speaking role as the video clip above shows. And she did a number of interviews with local media. She also was a panelist for a Chronicle of Higher Education webinar on student activism.

The national conversations caused us to think about what we could do at Dillard to address these issues.

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Our board chair, Michael Jones, who is the lead attorney pushing for equitable funding for HBCUs in Maryland, has been working and speaking out on those issues for a while, continuing to put pressure on the Governor to settle the case. He authored a great piece addressing the work that Dillard would do.

Dr. Ashraf Esmail, a criminologist who provides local expert commentary regularly, is leading up our initiative. He did an interview in June discussing race relations.

But there are other justice issues as well. Miss Dillard Kaylan Tanner is a 2018–20 fellow for the National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. This past March she was able to give a speech in Washington DC in support of reproductive rights.

Kaylan’s activism on reproductive rights led Seventeen Magazine to name her as one of the Voices of the Year for 2020.

Even artists helped to memorialize this period of time. Dillard alum Ted Ellis, a noted Houston-based artist, designed a piece that speaks to 2020. I got it as a Father’s Day gift and it hangs in my office, as well as a face mask with the print on it as well.

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There is a lot to do in terms of justice issues. Part of the work we have to do is to help students not only develop the confidence to address injustice, but to help them develop the tools to achieve effective change. Too many people think tweets alone are activism. They’re not. As my friend Killer Mike said in the aftermath of the unrest in Atlanta this summer…

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The Prez

Written by

7th president of Dillard University

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