Joseph Jones, Ph.D.
President, Fresno Pacific University
A Message No One Wants to Hear
Many people in our community are anxious for Fresno Pacific University to respond to the George Floyd incident, or to hear from me as an African American university president. I am not interested in jumping on the bandwagon to add to the rhetoric and emotions we see in the media; that I have been part of in the past and heard and seen all my life. You might say that my initial silence is my voice. Maybe someone would hear when I finally speak, because I have been trying to speak with my life.
I have heard these condemnations and demands for decades and personally witnessed these kinds of acts since my youth. The pointing of fingers, the initial outrage and feelings of helplessness, then the settling in because this is the norm and finally watching others go back to the privileged safe spaces built to protect them from people who look like me. I have been with them in signing petitions, making demands for justice and sitting in training opportunities where few people attend.
I have been a target of this type of profiling by police on four different occasions. Two of which my daughters and wife witnessed, one in which I would have landed in jail if I did not have a judge who vouched for my work with the courts. I know very few African American men who do not experience some form of disrespect, prejudice or discrimination, at least none in my age category.
So many are outraged, but these things have been happening all over the country, even in neighborhoods you who read this might avoid. Only a few of these issues get into the media. When they do, people naturally want to express personal outrage and demand someone else do something. So, they exercise their rights and speak out, but after these expressions take little responsibility to walk along side of our neighbors in their context, away from comfort and safety.
I have equally experienced stereotypes and prejudice in the church and Christian higher education. This was the one reason I made it very clear in coming to FPU that I was not interested hearing more rhetoric about the university’s values, but that members of its community would do and be who we say we are as followers of Christ. Therefore, we have adopted the motto: “to engage the cultures and serve the cities.” Many of you have been faithful to walk alongside of us to make this a reality.
What we have seen uncovered throughout our country during the Coronavirus and the consistency of racial and ethnic discrimination is only a reflection of the weakening heart of America, not just from one individual or a group of individuals, but from a self-centered culture that values service to itself more than service to others. As often as these things happen, whether school shootings, racial violence or immigrant bashing, we express our frustrations, then point to others to do something about it—mostly the government. Laws do not change hearts. God does. Jesus calls us to wash other’s feet; to serve to the point of humility. It has been a long time since I have seen or maybe you have seen this model in public or in the media.
My prayer for you, for our community and for Fresno Pacific University is that we empower more foot-washers for the Central Valley. People willing to go into uncomfortable places and meet with uncomfortable people to do an uncomfortable work. A work that looks like Jesus. It is in these places where you will find people who know they are targets for discrimination but refuse to be victims because their strength is in the Lord our God. The university is working on actionable plans to join in this mission. I pray that your lives will bear fruit that speak louder than your words, but that your words would be light because of your lives.