President Dillard: My Vision for the CRSJ

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Dr. Paulette Dillard is the 18th president of Shaw University.

My vision for the Shaw University Center for Racial and Social Justice is based on what is coded in our DNA. As a biologist, I know that the genetic instructions for the development, functioning, growth, and reproduction of all known organisms and many viruses are coded in its DNA. So it is with Shaw University.

From the time of its founding by Henry Martin and Sarah Leonard Tupper in 1865 through to this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shaw University has been an anchor for the challenges present in the landscape of the times. Let me elaborate:

  • Teaching newly freed individuals to read and interpret the bible immediately following the American Confederacy, an act that was outlawed just weeks earlier, in 1865
  • Opening its doors for women to be educated alongside men, a taboo at the time, in the 1870s
  • Creating a liberal arts education for any who wished to learn
  • Establishing professional schools (medical, law, and pharmacy) to provide access to care and legal services for marginalized people, in the 1880s
  • Graduating leaders that went on to found or lead several of North Carolina’s HBCUs, in the early 1900s
  • Supporting students who actively engaged in the Civil Rights Movement and the distinction of being the birthplace of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, in the 1960s
  • First HBCU to own a radio station, in 1968
  • A pioneer in the Development of the Centers for Alternative Programs in Education (CAPE) to provide education to the non-traditional adult student. Several individuals have risen to prominence in their field because of access to education through the CAPE program, recently rebranded as the Adult Degree Program, began in the 1970s
  • A research study to investigate why no black veterans of World War II had been awarded the Medal of Freedom, in the 1990s

With a backdrop of spring and summer 2020, the nation was besieged with the COVID-19 pandemic that disproportionately impacted black and brown people. Shaw was poised to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. The late congressman John Lewis had been invited to a conversation with Dr. David Forbes, who was SGA president at Shaw when SNCC was formed.

There was the social unrest created by the senseless killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Armaud Arbery. Shaw could not be silent — our DNA mandated that we act on behalf of marginalized individuals as we have in our past. The Center for Racial and Social Justice was created out of our genetic imprint for social change.

The vision that I have for the work of the Center against the current backdrop of an unprecedented viral pandemic, a resurgence of Jim Crow practices, gerrymandering to suppress the vote of black and brown people, and the disparate social determinants of health and wealth, is to promote intergeneration approaches to long-term solutions to the problems we face.

There must be courageous conversations between victims and victimizers, and research conducted to inform policy making. The Center will serve as the conduit for training offered through the School of Divinity, School of Business and Professional Studies (Social Work and Education), the School of Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, as well as the Early Childhood Development Center.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., intellect plus character is the true goal of education, and Shaw has demonstrated over and over again that it can deliver on that promise. Thanks to the generous support of the City of Raleigh, Duke Energy, and Gilead Sciences, we are completing the framework for the Center and will be rolling out a number of programs in early summer.

Our deep connections to the churches that make up the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, a world renowned Seminary, providing the elements to connect a broad array of people, coming together to address societal issues is the primary aim and vision for the Center.

Intergenerational leadership, gender and racial diversity, haves and have nots, Shaw University is dedicated to providing every individual access to the training, networks, and advocacy which will lead them to a brighter future.

It is our intent to engage with every individual, group, and organization through educational excellence and character formation to empower them to make an impact on their communities and the world.

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