A Reflection on Leadership in Light of Racism
Over the last three weeks there has been a large and appropriate response to the murder of Black Americans by police officers taking place. Our society is being traumatized by the systemic, institutional racism that pervades the structures that govern and rule our citizenry. Our Black neighbors live in fear every second of every day that their name will be the next that needs to be remembered or that their son or daughter may be the next Black citizen murdered in the streets by people who swore to protect them.
As a leading Jesuit institution of higher education, the Creighton community is called to engage with each other on a deeper level, examining current events in the context of our academic structure with the goal of better understanding how to truly be for and with others and be agents of social change.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to denounce discriminatory injustices and other practices that do not promote equality for all. It is our responsibility to vehemently oppose and condemn aggressive policing and racially motivated murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and countless other Black people in the United States of America. The recent killings of Black people have highlighted deep-seated trauma that Creighton’s minority students endure. Moreover, the systemic racism baked into each element of life that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students have to navigate in their workplace and classrooms in an effort to thrive has broken the social contract with them.
On June 17, Creighton’s Doctor of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership Program (EdD) invited students to have a conversation about leadership and racial justice. Dialogue allows for the examination of judgments and assumptions on issues which cause discomfort, in a space of equality and civility. Out of dialogue, truth, new ideas and new feelings of neighborliness emerge. As faculty and students dedicated to modeling the ability to effectively lead within complex and diverse societies, dialogue provides us a way to be in community with others who are committed to doing the hard work that will lead to anti-racist policies.
It was in response to this invitation that Driko Parsons, better known to most as Drip, a sergeant major in the Marines and a current student in Creighton’s EdD program, stepped forward with courage and integrity. Drip reached out to the faculty in the EdD program and engaged in that important dialogue to share his reaction to the civil unrest brought about by the killing of George Floyd and, in particular, how his reaction as a Black man affected his view of leadership. Over the following two weeks Drip and Candace Bloomquist, PhD, assistant professor in Creighton’s Doctor of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership Program (EdD) engaged in a dialogue. The following are excerpts from that honest and powerful dialogue.
Drip begins, “The senseless killing of Mr. George Floyd is not the first time that whites have murdered Blacks, and unfortunately, nor will it be the last. My thoughts run rampant with the names of people who look like me and have been subjected to the injustices of brutal racism and inequality, but Mr. Floyd’s death caused me to reflect on my leadership.”
He goes on to explain, “The very public video of Mr. Floyd’s murder is nine minutes. In those nine minutes, I reflected on my leadership and how I can be less threatening, more articulate, more persuasive, educated, caring, open and spiritual. Nine minutes to assess my life. Nine minutes to consider how the world sees me. Nine minutes to think about how I can convince white people that Black people are not thugs, overly dependent on welfare or criminals. Nine minutes to consider if there is a place for me in the white world of academia. Nine minutes to think about my convoluted ancestry. Nine minutes to review my career in an organization that does not reflect an image of me. Nine minutes to pray for my children and other POC who are in the military and that they can persevere through loneliness, lack of mentorship, advancement to positions of authority, and not having a voice after having to work harder than their white counterparts. Nine minutes to think about how I have been led and those that are leading me. Nine minutes for a lifetime of anger and emotion to fill my heart and soul. Nine minutes to attempt to repress the urge to blame every white person for everything that has negatively impacted Blacks and other POC. Lastly, nine minutes to pray for those who have lost their lives due to senseless racism, our nation's leaders, service members of color, family, friends, and to solve racial injustice.”
Over the past year, and as a result of recent events, Drip explained that he considered the Jesuit values and what Creighton and other Jesuit institutions of higher learning communicate. He says he thought about how someone can call themselves a leader when a white world shapes their practice of leadership, and how BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) have to conform to the white perspective or face negative impacts to their careers. Drip says, “I’m ‘all in’ with my loyalty to Creighton, the EdD program, academia and my faith. I have simply reached a point where I am tired of leaders being comfortable with me remaining in their blind spots.”
Drip says, “I have spent a lifetime learning the art of leadership, and now in the Doctor of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership program, I am learning the science of that to which I have given my life. Moreover, I have had to live with being the Black guy, seldom feeling like racial equality will ever be reached. I am committed to utilizing the intersection of these paths for good. I am resolved to furthering the conversation about leadership and racial justice with faculty, staff and students in the EdD program, so that during my lifetime, the killing of Blacks, who’s deaths repeatedly marked the start of change, will not this time die on the vine with the change of seasons.”
At Creighton University Graduate School, we embrace the Jesuit spirit of intellectual openness, tolerance, and celebration of different gifts and talents. We offer over 45 graduate programs and certificates that aim to develop the whole person – intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.