Reaching the Summit

The 11th Annual Summit on Transforming Learning is approaching. This year’s theme is “Advancing Racial Justice: Rollins & Beyond.” As I have been reflecting on the theme of this year’s Summit, I keep coming back to the appropriateness of the word summit.

When I think of a summit, the immediate image that comes to mind is that of a distant peak of a great and perilous mountain. It’s ominous. It makes me anxious. It makes me feel dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of what I’m facing.

This mountaineering illustration lends itself to so many pertinent topics – how to overcome fear, persevering in difficult situations, creatively overcoming obstacles, etc. Yet, as I’ve drafted and redrafted this blog post touching on those topics, it feels hollow. I feel the need for another subject, one that’s much more formidable and less (immediately) encouraging. I keep thinking of mountain climbers who give up their time, their safety, their comfort to reach the top. They don’t just enjoy mountains from a secure distance, or even close up with a leisurely stroll at the mountain’s base. They commit their bodies, their lives, potentially the rest of the moments they would ever live, just to reach the top.

This image begs the question(s): What am I willing to lay aside to reach the top? What am I willing to risk?

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

These are some of the final words Dr. King spoke publicly before his assassination. They are challenging words. They are daunting words. To be honest, I don’t know how to live up to all that these words entail. The summit, for King, cost him his life, a cost he foresaw.

I continue to reflect, and there are two questions I cannot escape: What am I willing to sacrifice? What are we, as a community, willing to sacrifice?

I don’t think that advancing racial justice will cost us at Rollins our lives. But it may cost us in other ways: How much time are we willing to give up to reach the summit? What social capital am I willing to lay down? How many resources are we willing to expend? How many stories of pain am I willing to engage?

These types of introspective questions are integral to the path of racial justice, as our inhibitions will pre-determine the distance we will go. We need to honestly assess if we are willing to give everything it takes to reach the summit, or if we will only settle for going part of the way up the mountain.

My heart is so encouraged by our administration, faculty, and students’ vision to engage in such a needed conversation. I feel a sense of hope as I think about the students and faculty who will be gathering to collaborate on one of the most pressing issues of our day. To all who are working to put together the upcoming Summit, thank you so much for your dedication and work to enrich our campus and world.

Let us enter into this 11th Annual Summit on Transforming Learning with a heartfelt desire to advance racial justice and a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of reaching the mountaintop.

This article also appeared in The Sandspur.

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