As I have shared in this space before, I am a perpetual worrier. In spite of professional advice, counseling, personal experience, and biblical direction, I cannot shake the shackles of worry. As the Bible directs and wise people opine, my worries are quite often worse than the realities they portend; so, in some respects I suffer doubly. Certainly, the events and circumstances of 2020 have placed many of my worries in their proper place. Between the challenges of COVID-19 and the horror and aftermath of George Floyd’s death, our petty day-to-day worries are placed in their proper places. During the past weeks, all of us at Baylor have been challenged to provide answers, from questions related to our safely opening school on August 19 (we are!) to responding to hard questions about “what Baylor intends to do” to promote social justice and racial reconciliation both at school and beyond the gates (we will!).
At the time of writing this for a mid-June press deadline, the answers to questions related to the many complications of holding school during COVID-19 are evolving but are grounded in the confidence of a school that witnessed two teachers and scientists, Drs. Elizabeth Forrester and Dawn Richards, lead the region in developing answers to COVID-19 testing. Their story is nothing short of remarkable and speaks to Baylor’s historic commitment to lead. Beyond their extraordinary contribution to our community, their work gives Baylor the testing capacity and protocols for students and faculty that are among the best in the country. Beyond our testing capacity, many Baylor alumni have been on the front lines of sanitizing buildings and places of work as our country has begun returning to some semblance of normality. They have stepped up for Baylor too. So, we can reassemble and begin the 2020-21 school year with confidence.
Therein lies our challenge…to find the common ground of our human condition so that we might have meaningful conversations and to make real change based on mutual respect, empathy, and love. As a great school, we are obliged to pursue truth and the best of ourselves as people.
The challenge to expand the conversation and work related to pursuing social justice and racial equity is much more complex and burdened by history and decades of societal indifference. That challenge has been illuminated by the continuum of reactions to the statement I issued the week of June 1, on behalf of the school in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death. Some found my remarks empty of commitment; others found them motivated by political correctness. Therein lies our challenge…to find the common ground of our human condition so that we might have meaningful conversations and to make real change based on mutual respect, empathy, and love. As a great school, we are obliged to pursue truth and the best of ourselves as people. Indeed, our founder, John Roy Baylor, called us to do just that. Yet, even Dr. Baylor partially represents a period of American history plagued by ideas we now know as backwards and ignorant. So, how do we reconcile all of these contradictions?
I was privileged to attend Baylor during an era in which we wrestled with difficult social issues. Dr. Herbert B. Barks, Jr. ’51, our fifth headmaster, led us on a journey in which significant change occurred at Baylor, and he empowered us to grapple with tough questions. He led us through integration and the move to coeducation, two of the most significant milestones in our history. He invited to campus leaders from various walks of life who introduced us to new and challenging ideas. Many of Dr. Barks’s initiatives were not curricular; rather they were experiential. They broadened our horizons, and we learned and grew through it all. Dr. Barks is rightly regarded as the most important leader in Baylor’s modern era. Now, almost fifty years after his arrival at Baylor, we hear the echoes of his voice and the charge of his leadership: to make Baylor and the world better places.
I am proud of the progress we have made related to issues of equity and inclusion. Still, we can and must do more. As this issue of Baylor magazine goes to print and as you read this message this summer, we will have already begun some of the work that lies ahead. And, as I enter my final year as headmaster at Baylor, I will strive to honor the legacies of John Roy Baylor and Herb Barks
by re-engaging our school community in the imperative work of equity and justice. Certainly, they would expect this commitment of us and for Baylor to lead the way.
God bless and GBR!