By Sean Brown, Massey College President
I will never forget this weekend. I had lunch on Monday with the former Vice President Biden, Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, and Mr. Obama’s Secretary of Education, John King.
It was a “historical homecoming” for America’s youth. Their presence stirred powerful memories: the beginning of the 20th century, the dawn of segregation, the start of the civil rights movement and the inescapable influence of the three young men – Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton – who advocated for voting rights and social justice.
When I first heard about the visit, I wrote to Mr. Biden and expressed my disappointment that President Obama had not brought the Ex-Plosion Tour back to Charleston. His main message to the audience was that he is only the President for eight years and that if the country wants to repair the racial divide it will take a generation. That is the message that resonates most with me in South Carolina.
He is right. America is in a different place from when the “Ex-Plosion Tour” arrived in 1971. Racism still exists in some form, especially in urban areas. The 21st century has been marked by several tragedies that attest to the wounds of racial discord.
With the loss of eight black lives in a single day last summer, I asked Mr. Biden if he thought our country was becoming less racist. He said it was. I told him I did not.
At a recent forum on race and criminal justice reform, Mr. Biden spoke passionately about the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and the horrific riots in Chicago in 2011. There are millions of Americans who yearn for a just society where economic power is not tied to race. Mr. Biden told me that none of us would be where we are today had the Civil Rights Movement not happened. I appreciate him sharing his thoughts on race and social justice.
This weekend was a reminder that the stars are aligning for America’s youth. They are ready to speak out in a way that will bring about change. They share a hunger for equality, justice and freedom. Our nation needs that voice and the voices of the young can bridge racial divides.
We have a history in America of using our churches, colleges and universities to host important speakers. This past weekend, those speakers couldn’t have been better. They came from a variety of backgrounds. Yet, the underlying message was one of unity – not a divide, but a belief in a common purpose.
If all Americans stand together on these issues, I believe we can achieve change in this country. Mr. Biden said, “we are not going to win this battle on the streets, but we are going to win it in the houses of worship.”
Sean Brown is the President of Massey College. Follow him on Twitter @Brown/Massey.