An open letter to the U community from a black man

Recognize us for more than our athletic successes. Recognize us for the students, friends, community members and men that we are.

As Black History Month comes to a spectacular finish with outstanding Black Student Union events and a free screening of the film “Ray” in the Coffman Union Theater, the academic family should take a slight recess to hear the voice of the black male. The contents of this dispatch will not be the tone of all black men here. But it will be genuine enough to be taken seriously.

First off, University, I love you. I appreciate the opportunity you extended me in the form of an acceptance letter. Thank you for recognizing my academic potential and allowing me to further my education.

But much like a first love you intertwine positive and negative in a way that is hard to digest. From the moment I stepped on this campus there lingered an eerie uneasiness. Your walls were quick to enclose me in knowledge but slow to do so in loving acceptance.

Perhaps it was being the only black male in my dorm wing, or being the only black person in my geology lab. More amazingly, maybe it was walking across the Washington Avenue Bridge and not seeing a single face that looked like mine. Maybe it was all three.

Luckily, there were people who came before me that were able to identify with me, people who understood my uneasiness. Some bleakly assured me what I was feeling should be placed under the heading “that’s just the way it is.” Others rejoicingly testified that more students of African descent called this university home now that any other time they could remember. So I asked myself, “Is this more?” “Is this progress?” Surely not. Surely eating breakfast at 8 a.m. in the Centennial Hall dining hall without seeing another black student is not progress.

Certainly being mistaken for a Golden Gophers football player because I am black and more than 6 feet tall is not a step forward. While writing this letter I’m reminded of a chorus to a song by the rapper Jay-Z. The refrain says: “This can’t be life; This can’t be love; This can’t be right; It’s gotta be wrong.”

This can’t be life.

College life is not living with the fear of failure. At this level of a person’s academic pursuit failure is indicative of more than you as a person. It is a stain on your community. If my friend cannot continue past our freshman year for any myriad reasons, I feel his burden as if it were my own. When two black student-athletes at the University are accused of rape, I feel as if my morals are on trial as well. That just can’t be life.

This can’t be love.

Love is not downplaying cultural uniqueness by closing the African-American Learning Resource Center and fusing it with other culture/race based learning resource groups under the umbrella of multiculturalism. Speaking to everyone does not entail speaking to me, and my people. That can’t be love.

This can’t be right.

It can’t be right to indict me based on my appearance Ö or on BET/MTV’s portrayal. I am more than a super rich entertainer or spoiled professional athlete. I am a student, I am a learner and I am a man.

More than anything, University, get to know me. Become familiar with my interests and my inspirations. Sponsor a speaker during Black History Month to address the relevance of Black History Month here at a predominantly white campus. Understand our history of struggle as well as our triumphs. Appreciate our history and respect or future. Assure me that my blackness is not a burden, but rather a shining ribbon on your robe of multicultural pride.

It’s gotta be wrong.

It has to be wrong to have racially charged, hate-filled messages scrawled students’ doors regardless of their race. If I, the black male at the University, must be used as some sort of example, then use our collective memory of racial inequality to attack racism and bigotry. Publicly denounce such ignorance. This is an institution of learning; take every opportunity to teach acceptance, tolerance and positive intercultural relationships.

After you read this letter do not forget about me. Recognize me for more than back-to-back dual 1,000 yard rushers or for career-high 32 point performances in the defeat of a hated rival. Recognize me for having three fraternities that proudly represent this campus instead of tarnishing your image through repeatedly violating campus rules regarding underage drinking and public intoxication. Recognize my strength. I am here because I value the gift of education you offer. I am here because I want to be and need to be. Show me that I am wanted; show me that I am needed.

Jerold Wells Jr. is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last of four opinions on Black History Month running each Thursday during February.