“The Urgency of Now”: Navigating Our Time Together in a Moment of Profound Global Uncertainty

Many of us are seeking ways to respond to the current crisis and relate to our students. The following is a letter to students written by Tony Van Der Meer (Senior Lecturer II) and Keith Jones (Visiting Assistant Professor) of the Africana Students Department. The CDU blog is interested in hearing what other faculty are doing and if you’d like to share, please feel free to contact us at: umb dot cdu at gmail dot com.


As educators, we deeply believe that education should be liberatory. We take guidance and direction from what Paulo Freire calls the oppressor/oppressed contradiction, which involves always knowing who you are and where you are in relation to the racialized, classed, and gendered hierarchies that govern our everyday lives and the entire global system.

We are in a period of profound crisis and will not and cannot pretend that we can just “carry on” as if things were normal. We see the Corona pandemic as an historical event without precedence, and it requires our analyzing it in the kinds of clear and precise ways we would a text. As educators, one of our roles has been preparing you critically to think about and understand how to approach a crisis of this kind. What we are facing, of course, is the extreme vulnerabilities that people experience in a crisis of this magnitude when there are not safeguards like universal health care, stable and dignified employment, livable wages, strong unions, and communities that are invested in and supported.

We understand that you, our students, are a population that represents some of the most vulnerable people impacted by this crisis. We want you to know that we are in solidarity with your circumstances and have no interest in imposing unreasonable pressures upon you this semester.

We understand that you must protect yourselves in the midst of this pandemic; that you will need to self-quarantine and stay whole and healthy in body and mind and not entirely (or not even remotely) in circumstances of your own choosing.

Because we understand this and support you, we are aligning our values and core beliefs as educators with the actual situation of your lives and intend to help you navigate these new and profoundly uncertain times that we are now all in whatever our circumstances. In other words, we are here to support you and see you through this in ways that not only keep you whole but also give you the clarity and strength to overcome this.

In light of these incredibly uncertain circumstances and given that we are transitioning very abruptly to on-line learning, we aim to take it slow and be attentive to your hardships, and to the particular stresses you are now under.

We want to encourage your ideas in helping us better prepare, protect, and educate you as we all navigate this new world. But because it is also a new world for us, we ask you to be patient with us as we learn what it means to teach in these circumstances given that we ourselves are also at strain to protect our own health as well as the health of our families and communities.

While all of your syllabi in the Africana Studies department (and in your courses throughout the university) will need to be amended and revised, we especially want to emphasize how deeply the concepts and ideas of our courses are critical to rethinking the crisis we are in and how it relates to your lives and the lives, historically, of your communities.

We view this as an extraordinary moment to reflect upon and practice Dr. Martin Luther King’s notion of “dangerous unselfishness,” which asks us not to think or act selfishly, as if we were isolated individuals, but rather to risk in protected ways the practice of caring for others and creating and acting as if you belonged to what Dr. King called the “beloved community.” So while we strongly encourage “social distancing,” we also strongly encourage you to engage in spiritual alignment—caring for your elders, your neighbors, and for those more vulnerable than you both within your own communities and throughout the globe.

We want to encourage you to use this opportunity to build networks in your community. We encourage you to be in contact with those who might need immediate assistance and support while also being mindful that we also have to practice self-care and safety in these times.

What we need above all else is to become active participants in creating systemic changes, actively advocating and supporting the critical needs of our communities, and thinking and acting clearly in ways that help us bring about the kind of world we want and the kind of future we want for ourselves, for our children, and for our children’s children.

We deeply encourage you to hold your local and state elected representatives and senators accountable to protecting and serving the needs of all the people.

Now is the time for you to apply in crucial and meaningful ways your capacity to think critically and analyze how to address the current crisis we are in. But clear analysis also requires action and active civic engagement. We must continuously learn to educate ourselves in order to liberate ourselves. An important dimension of our responsibility as educated citizens and as scholars is to keep our publicly elected officials accountable—not only to the will of the people but to the welfare of the people. We must additionally be open to working on behalf of and learning from the experiences of others.

The activist and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore recently posted an episode on his podcast that we found very important and instructive. We encourage you to listen to it and consider how Moore reflects on our own moment in light of what Dr. King called “the urgency of now.” See: https://rumble.media/episode/episode-53-emergency-podcast-system-the-first-million-dead/

We also encourage you to use your smartphones as tools to keep watch on those who are elected to serve the public welfare:

  • We encourage you to call your Senators at this number: 202-225-3121. If you do not know their names, just tell the switchboard operator what state you are from.
  • We encourage you to call your Congresspersons at this number: 202-224-3121. If you do not know their names, just tell the switchboard operator what your zip code is.
  • We encourage you to call Governor Baker’s office: (617) 725-4005.
  • We encourage you to call Mayor Walsh’s office: (617) 635-4500.

Let the elected officials hear from you directly. Remember that you can make a difference, and do not allow them or anyone to take you for granted. Keep us updated on what you do if that is your desire.

We are deeply committed to hosting a Zoom forum to talk about and discuss any and all of the issues and concerns relevant to your lives, to your communities, and to the larger global situation of our present moment.

In solidarity, and with our very best wishes,

Tony Van Der Meer, Ph.D.
Senior Lecturer II, Africana Studies Department

Keith Jones, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor, Africana Studies Department

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