I wrote in The Atlantic, “History is calling the future from the streets of protest. What choice will we make? What world will we create? What will we be? There are only two choices: racist or antiracist.”
We are choosing to be antiracist. My colleagues and I are choosing to use the blocks of thoughtful and exhaustive public scholarship to build an antiracist future for America, for humanity. There is no better base of operations to found our research center than Boston University, a community of researchers and learners founded in, and still committed to, inclusion. William Fairfield Warren, BU’s first president, insisted the University be open to all students “without respect to creed, or race, or sex.” As someone married to a woman physician, I’m proud that BU’s medical school was the first to admit women, in 1873. It is the same medical school that in the late 1880s trained Charles Eastman, the first Native author to write American history from the perspective of Native Americans. I look forward in the coming weeks, months and years to engaging with BU faculty and students and staff and administrators and alumni as we develop the BU Center for Antiracist Research at this critical moment in our lives, at this transformative moment in the life of the nation and world.
BU is full of energy, expertise, and hope, kind of like the son of an Atlanta preacher who arrived on campus in 1951, the year of my mother’s birth. Six months after earning his doctorate from BU in 1955, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped lead the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964—the same year he donated his personal papers to BU—King said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”
The BU Center for Antiracist Research is being built in the same hallowed hall where King studied with the first Black dean at a predominantly white university, the legendary theologian Howard Thurman. It is being built in the same city where a young poet named Phillis Wheatley wrote at America’s founding, “For in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression.” It is being built in the same city where the mother of American feminism, Maria Stewart, orated in the early 1830s. It is being built in the same city where William Lloyd Garrison edited the voice of the American abolitionist movement, The Liberator. It is being built in the same city where, in the 1960s, the Emergency Tenants’ Council and the Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción began the fight for the now iconic Villa Victoria Community. It is being built at the same university that for 24 years housed the people’s scholar, Howard Zinn.
It is being built as the fight against racism takes center stage in American life. I have spent the better part of my career elucidating antiracism, and studying racism. I have seen racism in all its ugliness in our time and across centuries. But like King, like that BU student resisting injustice, I have not lost faith in the beauty of human potential, and the possibilities of a world where life, health, equity, and justice are inalienable human rights. We must believe change is possible in order to bring about change. We must be willing to do the hard research and policy and narrative and advocacy work to bring about change. We are willing. Let’s build the BU Center for Antiracist Research. Encourage us, support us—help us build the world anew.
Ibram X. Kendi
July 1, 2020