For nine minutes and 29 seconds on Tuesday, Northeastern University stood still, silently mourning George Floyd on the first anniversary of his death and reflecting on the urgent work toward racial justice that still remains to be done.
“The death of George Floyd was this century’s Selma moment, that Bloody Sunday moment, which marked a turning point in the Civil Rights movement,” said Karl Reid, senior vice provost and chief inclusion officer at Northeastern, during a ceremony on Centennial Common.
Reid and Joseph E. Aoun, president of the university, charged the Northeastern community to help dismantle systemic racism and inequality—and to build a more equitable world along the way.
“This is a call to action here within the university, but the world does not stop at our door,” Aoun said after the moment of reflection Tuesday. “Our charge is to build an inclusive society wherever we are, wherever our students are, wherever our community is. We have a lot to do.”
Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff joined—in person and on their own—to hold in heavy silence the nearly 10 minutes that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck a year ago.
“Today, we pause for that same nine minutes and 29 seconds to mourn for the lives that have been lost to violence, to reflect on the lessons learned, and to consider and contemplate the possibilities of an inclusive future,” Reid said.
The normally bustling campus quad was still, with rumble of wheels that signified trains coming and going from nearby Ruggles Station, the clanging of weights holding taut the American flag overhead, and the chirping of birds among the only sounds for much of the time.
Sagar Rajpal, senior assistant director at Northeastern’s Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service, counted out the minutes with a Tibetan singing bowl, each long minute horrific for what it signified.
Some people stood and others knelt; many were moved by the representation of the duration. Reid wiped his eyes with a handkerchief, and others throughout the crowd removed glasses and sunglasses to do the same.
“Nine minutes and 29 seconds is a long, long time for a life to leave us,” Reid said.
In April, Chauvin was found guilty of three counts related to Floyd’s murder, a milestone in the movement for racial justice that was reignited after Floyd’s death.
Communities across the United States and around the world faced a reckoning about racial injustice and systemic inequities, with many taking a hard look at the ways in which they can do better in the future.
Northeastern was no different—in June 2020, Aoun announced a number of actions the institution would undertake to confront discrimination and achieve its vision for diversity, inclusion, and equality.
“After the murder of George Floyd, in many ways the university was caught flat-footed,” Aoun said after Tuesday’s moment of reflection. “It was a learning moment for all of us, and I want to thank the students, faculty, and staff who stepped in to shape the path moving forward.”
Reid, whose appointment was among the many actions laid out in Aoun’s plan, commended the work that’s already been undertaken, and pushed for more.
In the year since Aoun’s message, the newly formed Northeastern University Police Department Advisory Board has helped to establish greater transparency and opened up access to policing on campus.
Reid has been charged with implementing a broad, university-wide approach to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion at Northeastern that requires bolstering five fronts simultaneously: increasing diversity across all levels of the university; ensuring equity by “rooting out areas of discrimination and bias”; developing inclusion in part by offering antiracist and implicit bias training for faculty and staff; closely examining the university’s relationships with its community; and making data more readily available.
On Tuesday he encouraged every member of the Northeastern community to “reach out to people who are different from you,” to engage in meaningful conversation.
“Let’s be intentional about challenging our own biases that we all have,” he said. “Let’s interrupt that automatic process to promote people who are like you, but instead to call on people who aren’t like you, to place ourselves in a place of learning from each other. We are gathered here because we want a better community.”