Dear Members of the George Washington University Community,
This week marks the start of Black History Month, and I can think of no more significant place to be at this moment than at our university in Washington, D.C.
Just blocks from our university sits the first Black woman elected to be Vice President of the United States. Also down the road is the historic home where members of the Congressional Black Caucus gather. Up the street in Bethesda, Maryland, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black woman immunologist, led the development of the COVID-19 vaccine that is saving our lives today. And of course, the monumental sites of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Harriet Tubman’s House, Frederick Douglass’s House, and so much more are just outside of our front door. People from all around the world travel here to Washington, D.C., to learn about this rich history, and we are fortunate to be part of it and celebrate it every single day.
In 1926, historian, scholar, and academic administrator Carter G. Woodson pursued an urgent and pressing need to lead others in honoring and celebrating the contributions of Black people in American life and culture. Though it began as a single week in February, Black History Month is now the result of his unwavering commitment and tireless work.
Like so many centuries-old institutions, at GW, we still have work to do to continue reconciling our history with slavery, acknowledging and disrupting systemic racism in the fabric of our institution, and shining light on injustice whenever and wherever we find it in our community. The past two years have been a wakeup call for me and so many of us, as we watched—and continue to watch—our nation explode in violence. So many Black lives have been taken needlessly. Just recently, as you may know, our neighboring historically Black colleges and universities have received bomb threats. I am glad no one has been physically harmed, but I am very distressed that these threats cause so much disruption and hurt, particularly for members of the Black community. The call for racial justice and the necessary act of working toward anti-racism have never been more clear and timely.
At GW, Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni deserve to feel included in every space— classrooms, residences, the workplace, and more. As President, I want members of our Black community to know that I am deeply committed to being part of cultivating pathways for you to have positive and meaningful futures here at GW and beyond.
As we strive for change on our campus, I want to celebrate and uplift the Black Student Union’s annual Black Heritage Celebration (BHC), with this year’s theme, Homecoming - Been Black. I recently learned from members of the Black community about the rich tradition underpinning this theme. Not only does it represent the return to campus, it also symbolizes the enduring presence of Blackness—past, present, and future—at GW. It is an honor to be invited to join in this month’s celebrations, and I congratulate the members of our community who are planning for a series of dynamic events.
While this month marks the dedicated time in our country when we pause, reflect, and celebrate the contributions, history, and futures of Black people in the United States, I know there is much more work to be done at GW. I am here to be part of positive change.
I hope each of you joins me in the work of anti-racism. I hope you choose to participate in BHC events this month. And I hope that you celebrate and honor the meaningful contributions of Black people at GW, in the nation, and in the world—not only in February, but also all year long.
Mark S. Wrighton