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Learning from Chautauqua Voices on Race and Justice

Dear Chautauquans,

My heart aches for the hurt in our nation. The recent headlines remind me how much work we all need to do to heal divisions. My thoughts and prayers go out to all who are hurting during this scary time as old systemic wounds of racism are again laid bare, a reminder that they are unresolved and unattended to, all while we grapple with a virus that has leveled the world. It is at moments like these that I search for words to make sense of what is simply senseless. Words fail me right now, but they do not fail the voices we have presented at Chautauqua, prophetic voices of change, voices calling us to live more fully our creed of seeking the best in human values.

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Photo by Dave Munch/The Chautauquan Daily

Sarah Lewis, guest editor of the landmark “Vision & Justice” issue of Aperture, reminded us from our Amphitheater stage in August 2019:

“This country has been in such moments before, yet this particular one has a distinct character. It offers near-daily reminders that the fragility of American rights has not only been secured by norms and laws, but by how we judge — how we quite literally see each other. And how we refuse to see each other.”

We see so many calling for, yearning for justice right now, that justice that Edwin Lindo, critical race theory scholar and educator who is faculty within the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, scripted for us in July 2019 when he said:

“There is no middle ground between justice and injustice. There is no gray area. If the negotiation is between ‘stop killing us,’ I don’t know what the other option is — kill us less?”


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Photo by Sarah Holm/The Chautauquan Daily

We seek wisdom during these times, the wisdom we find in the words of Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, who told our audiences in July 2016:

“The issue for me is not whether police officers are bad or good. Most are good, decent people trying to do their job. But the police officers are a cog in the wheel. The wheel that crushes black bodies and black families week in and week out.”


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Photo by Sarah Holm/The Chautauquan Daily

Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta and our nation’s first African-American Ambassador to the United Nations, reminded us to stay vigilant and keep working for justice when he said at Chautauqua in July 2016:

“There is going to be serious confusion in all of our lifetimes, and so, a place like Chautauqua is important because it would remind us that we may not know what the future may hold, but we are here because we know who holds the future. And, just as God has seen us through many dangers, toils and snares by amazing grace, that same amazing grace will find a way to help us through. But, in the meantime, let’s not expect to be comfortable.”


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Photo by Alexander Wadley/The Chautauquan Daily

And Risa Goluboff, dean of the University of Virginia School of Law, who led the university's response to the events in Charlottesville in August 2017, told us in July 2019 what we need to do, when she shared at Chautauqua:

“Take all of the resources you have, all of the education you have, all of the institutions of which you are a part, and you put them to work to recommit to the values of love, tolerance, understanding and justice in the face of hate, intolerance and violence."

So where do we go from here?


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Photo by Alexander Wadley/The Chautauquan Daily

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of the Diocese of Maryland told us in August of last summer:

“The only chance that a liberal democracy such as ours (has to) succeed is if there is an informed populace deeply in love with their country, who love it enough to challenge, critique and protest when the nation does not live up to its ideals. The nation’s founders knew that dissent in a democracy is not a synonym for disloyalty. In fact, what is really unpatriotic is blind subservience.”


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Photo by Abigail Dollins/The Chautauquan Daily

And Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, reminded us the August the year prior:

“We can’t create justice if we insist on only doing the things that are comfortable and convenient. It just doesn’t work that way. I do not do what I do because someone has to do it. I don’t do what I do because it is important. I realized I do what I do because I am broken, too. … It is the broken among us that can teach us the way mercy can heal. It is the broken that understand the power of compassion. It is the broken that can teach us why justice is urgent in a society like ours and (it is) in brokenness that we understand what our humanity is all about."


Chautauqua is a shared community where people with a thirst for learning and an interest in ongoing self-development are drawn and thrive. Chautauqua’s work and interactions with others, as an institution and a community, are inspired and guided by a common set of beliefs and commitments, including the dignity and contributions of all people and a belief that dialogue is needed to achieve enhanced understanding that leads to positive action. Our strategic plan calls for a more inclusive society and Chautauqua as one of its core drivers.

As I think about all that’s happening in our nation, I yearn for the humanity that Bryan spoke of to find its rightful place in our nation. I yearn for us to live up to our ideals. I yearn for us to see one another. The events of the past week will certainly be front and center as we grapple with important conversations this summer. I hope those conversations provide one more step toward a shared understanding of our humanity, and that it creates a thirst for justice the world over.

May the God we know by many names and traditions bring healing, justice and peace.


Michael E. Hill

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