Very recently, I lost a colleague—a black woman with advanced degrees, a mother, and a valued friend.  We worked as colleagues for a number of years.  Her legacy is in my thoughts.

I am also thinking of my students. I’m regularly in conversation with them about issues of race, justice and invisibility.   My students—of all races—want to be better equipped to address injustice.  My black students yearn for the strength to be able to withstand and confront the psychological and spiritual assaults of racism.

As James Baldwin says to his nephew in The Fire Next Time:  “You were born into a society which spelled out in brutal clarity, and in as many ways possible, that you were a worthless human being.”   Baldwin wrote those words in 1963 and, in some ways, things haven’t changed much.   My students protest politely and wear t-shirts with the slogan, “Black Lives Matter.”   But the history of race relations in our nation prior to 1963, and since then as well says to some of us, “No, your lives don’t matter.”

In 1980, a white racist by the name of Joseph Christopher tried to incite a race war by killing black men.  This serial killer, who was tabbed the .22-Caliber Killer, killed 13 black men in my hometown of Buffalo, NY and in New York City.  My students don’t know this, because history deemed the lives of his victims “worthless,” as though the lives of the black men he killed didn’t matter enough to blast their story from the mountaintops.  “Rendered Invisible Speaks” because society still spells out to some that their lives are “worth less” than those of others.

How does this relate to the passing of my friend?  Hers was a worthy and splendid life; she was smart, dedicated to helping others, and family-oriented, the type of friend one is always happy to see.  Her smile, like her life, glowed.    The late, great baseball pioneer, Jackie Robinson once said this in his autobiography, I Never Had it Made, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”   I believe that, and I also believe that the one of the most important impacts of the Black Lives Matter movement is its declaration of the worth of black lives, a statement which should also inspire each of to live as my friend did, positively impacting the lives of others on a daily basis.