That question is inspired by the poem, What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black by Margaret Burroughs. It is the question I have wrestled with for the past five days as I watched demonstrations unfold around the country spurred by the murder of George Floyd and as I have spent time with individual Faculty, Staff, and Students who are experiencing PTSD, who have recently and not so recently experienced traumatic events in encounters with police or with people in authority.

The hurt, anger, rage, and protests are about so much more than one murder.  

I wrote this poem to reflect on this time.

What shall I tell my students who are Black women?

What can I say that is meaningful; that has not already been said?
More specifically, as President of a historically Black college for women, what can I say to my students who are Black women?
What can I say to them about the murder of Breonna Taylor, A Black woman who was killed in her home?
What shall we say to Black women who are seeking safety when home is no longer safe—
From police, from coronavirus, from domestic violence, from mental health challenges?

Who did George Floyd call out to with his last breaths?
His mother, a Black woman
What shall we say to George Floyd’s daughter, a young Black girl?

What shall I say to my students who are Black women?
Let us honor George Floyd’s mother and his daughter. Let us honor the legacy of Breonna Taylor. Let us honor the legacy of Bennett Belles who organized, planned, and led, protests during the Sit-Ins and other movements.

Actively engage in protests, behind the scenes or out front. Let your voice be heard in the fight against racial injustice and police brutality. It is in our DNA.

Let us lift up the role and struggle of Black women in society, in the emerging movement, in the emotional labor of the family, and the home.

Where will we go when we leave the streets?
Who is the Black woman to emerge as a Leader during this time?
Which of our social work students will emerge to comfort, counsel, and console those who are (re)traumatized from these events?
Which of our STEM students will emerge to provide needed medical care to those harmed in the streets?
Which of our entrepreneurship students will emerge with a new Black-owned business or will coach someone who lost a business?
Which of our journalism students will emerge to report on the protests and more importantly, what happens after the protests?

What shall I say to my students who are Black women?
About life after the protests?
I turn back to Margaret Burroughs:

What can I do to give [her] strength
That [she] may come through life’s adversities
As a whole human being unwarped and human in a world
Of biased laws and inhuman practices, that [she] might
Survive. And survive [she] must! For who knows?
Perhaps [that Black woman there] bears the genius
To discover the cure for…Cancer
Or to chart the course for exploration of the universe.
So, [she] must survive for the good of all humanity.
[She] must and will survive.

What shall I say to my students who are Black women?
Stay safe, stay healthy, while you actively fight injustice and engage in community to support others
You must and will survive
- -
Suzanne Elise Walsh, JD
President, Bennett College
3 June 2020

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