To The Deerfield Community from Dr. Austin

June 1, 2020

Dear Deerfield Community,

I write to you as tens of thousands of people across the country take to the streets to honor the lives of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, express outrage at their killing and, not for the first time in our history, demand change. We have been here before; their deaths reflect a long history of violence directed at Black Americans that reaches back many hundreds of years and that continues to find expression today. The pandemic that has killed over 100,000 Americans has compounded existing disparities of opportunity, reinforced longstanding patterns of racial inequality, and attacked—ferociously and disproportionally—communities of color.

To our students, families, and alumni of color: We stand with you against hatred, police violence, and racism in all its forms. We stand in solidarity with those across our cities and towns who speak for human dignity, civil rights, and peaceful protest. The brutal death of George Floyd—and the unspeakably disturbing video of his final moments—have left many of our students fearful of the very authorities responsible for their physical safety and security, despairing of their future, and, justifiably, in search of answers—and a better way.

On March 31, 1968 in the National Cathedral, at a moment of national crisis that is eerily similar to the one we now face, Dr. Martin Luther King, in one of his final sermons before his assassination, offered his theory of history: “The arc of the moral universe is long,” Dr. King said, drawing on the words of the 19th-century abolitionist Theodore Parker, “but it bends toward justice.”

In light of the past weeks, Dr. King’s words may seem unrealistically hopeful, perhaps even naïve. Dr. King was neither. He had deep knowledge of our country’s terrible history of racial violence, and he understood how injustice, unequal opportunity, and systemic disadvantage echo through time and persist into the present. Against these, he brought disciplined non-violence, strengthening our civic culture even as he fought for legislative and political reform. Repeatedly threatened and attacked, he understood the fear and insecurity that came with being Black in America, and he frankly admitted that his belief in a universe bending toward justice was a matter of faith—not a question of fact. But with that faith, Dr. King told his congregation that day, we can “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

A stone of hope. That is what I choose to share with you today. Even as we join the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd—and the families of all of those lost to racial violence and pandemic—in mourning and a struggle to make sense of these last weeks, let us keep faith. As our culture descends into acrimony and cynicism, let us keep faith with one another. Let us dedicate ourselves to dialogue and conversation so that we may learn to listen and hear the call of those who have been abandoned to poverty and invisibility. If our political institutions fail us, let us not retreat or disengage: Let us commit to reform, renewal, and democratic transformation. Let us, as Dr. King did, keep faith in the unrealized promise of equal justice and dignity for all. Most of all, let us work harder together, and do better; over the next few days, members of my senior team and the Academy’s faculty will be reaching out to our current students and families—in solidarity and action—as we strive to realize what Deerfield, at its best, stands for: an education that honors and loves each student with a full and open heart, and, through the lives of its graduates, seeks to redeem the world from injustice and hatred.

Faithfully, and with my best wishes for your health and safety,

John Austin