A day for reflection, engagement, and action

Images of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after being taken into police custody in Minneapolis, hang surrounded by roses on a security barrier outside the U.S. embassy in Mexico City on May 30, 2020. AP Photo by Rebecca Blackwell

Northeastern will be suspending operations on Monday to hold two live events focused on unity, equality, and justice. A morning vigil will be held in response to the killing of George Floyd and other Black people by police officers, to be followed by a discussion on civil rights and justice.

“We will use this time and space—exactly two weeks after the unjust and inhumane killing of George Floyd—to hold a ‘Day for Reflection, Engagement, and Action,’” Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, wrote in an announcement on Wednesday. 

The killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have sparked protests in the U.S. and beyond.

At 11 a.m. on Monday, Northeastern will host a series of speakers who will confront and respond to the scourge of racism and its carnage. An Online Vigil to Remember Black Lives Lost and Confront Injustice will be streaming here.

At 2 p.m. Monday, there will be a screening on Facebook Live of Murder in Mobile, an award-winning documentary film that tells the poignant story of a Jim Crow-era hate crime brought to light seven decades later by a Northeastern law student. The film will be followed by a discussion with Margaret Burnham, university distinguished professor of law and director of Northeastern’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, about ways to confront systemic racism and move forward together. 

In 1964, Burnham was a young civil rights activist working in Mississippi, where three of her colleagues were murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan. As a lawyer, she worked on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in 2010 she headed a team that settled a federal lawsuit in which Mississippi law enforcement officials were accused of assisting Klansmen in the 1964 kidnapping, torture, and murder of two 19-year-old Black men, Henry Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. 

“I’ve thought to myself, what about the people who came before me and who fought against lynching?” said Burnham, who created the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project to investigate acts of racial injustice that took place in the Jim Crow South from 1930 to 1970. “I wonder what they would think if they were propelled into the future and were able to see that it’s still here, that it still defines a certain kind of American appetite for violence against black people, to redefine black people as inhuman.”

Burnham mentioned Walter White, who led National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1929 to 1955, and Black leaders like Thurgood Marshall, who was the Supreme Court’s first Black justice, and Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), an investigative journalist who was an early leader of the civil rights movement.

“But I also think of people like Hannah Arendt, who commented that the most distressing thing is the banality with which these perpetrators act—that it is possible for a human being to put their hand in their pocket and their knee on your neck and kill you,” Burnham said. “It’s horrific, but it’s also just the banality of it that has people reeling back on their heels and concluding that something is deeply, deeply wrong here. And we don’t seem to have identified the tools or the leadership to be confident that at some time in the United States we’ll be able to get it right.”

All events will be held online, in accordance with public health guidelines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Northeastern will be suspending all classes and closing administrative and academic offices on all of its campuses in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K..

Aoun said that Northeastern is planning virtual town halls on race and justice led by the co-chairs of the Presidential Council on Diversity and Inclusion, Uta Poiger, dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, and James Hackney, dean of the School of Law. On June 19, which is traditionally a day to celebrate the emancipation of slaves in the U.S., the university community will gather on all of its campuses for a Day of Solidarity “to listen, to speak, and to engage one another in advancing the cause of justice,” wrote Aoun.

The university will be showcasing art, poetry, and music created by Black artists, and in solidarity with them, in its Instagram story. Follow @Northeastern on Instagram for more information.

Laura Castañón contributed to this report.

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