An Open Letter to My Students: Black Lives Matter

Dear Students:

It’s June 3, 2020, and believe it or not, I’m at a loss for words.

It’s been an impossibly stressful few months when we’ve moved from getting to hang out in class to isolation at home with people, especially people of color, getting sick and dying all around us. It feels like the end of the world.

On May 13, 2020, in a town I used to call my home, Breonna Taylor a 26 year old emergency room tech, barely older than any of you, was drug from her apartment and shot to death by Louisville Police. They shot her eight times.

And then on Memorial Day, it got much worse when four police officers arrested and murdered George Floyd in eight minutes and forty-six seconds.

It recalls for me the dark days of March 1991 when I was in school working on my Master’s degree. Then the verdict of not guilty was released after the whole world watched as three LAPD policemen savagely beat Rodney King in South Los Angeles.

It recalls for me the countless times between when black men, black women, and god help us, even black babies just playing in a park, have been gunned down by the very people we expect to protect us.

There just aren’t words for my rage when I think, this could be, and dammit probably will be, one of my students.

And so while there aren’t words for this, I cannot stay silent. I will not stay silent.

I am a middle-aged white man who has been born and raised in the South. I have benefited from our racist society for far too long. I have cried at the sights on TV but done far too little to stop the racism.

I’m sorry for my part, both direct and indirect, in allowing our world to be the way it is.

It ends today.

I love my students. Even those of you I’ve just met, I love you. It has been a privilege to teach and learn with you at our Historically Black College for the past 17 years. I’ve dedicated my life to helping you improve yours by helping you master communicating the ideas that are in your head. I’ve done this because I believe those ideas need to be heard.

I need to hear your thoughts. This is why I teach writing.

And so I promise you this:

  1. I will shut up and listen to you. I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color in America, but you do. And I will shut up and listen to what you have to say. And I will believe you.
  2. I will speak out on your behalf to those of my color who attempt to demean, debase, and abuse you.
  3. I will embrace you as my brothers and sisters and fight with you against the injustice that is rotting our world and killing our children.
  4. I will stand with you.

It’s a horrible world where something like this needs to be written and spoken aloud, but I will, with your help and guidance, reject the position of privilege that is afforded me by my skin color, and I will work with you to make our world a place where my children and yours can walk freely, drive freely, live freely without fear of flashing blue lights.

Black Lives Matter.

My students matter. And I refuse to allow a racist society to continue to abuse you.

We are going to change this world. Together.


Russell Winn
Humanities Instructor

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.