Reflections on the Protest and Violence in Charlottesville

I was on vacation and for once, totally off the grid, when the Charlottesville protest occurred. On Tuesday, I read with shock and alarm that neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan had gathered by the hundreds to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and that one protester had injured many and killed one young counter-protester by driving his car into a crowd.

The news stories reported that the protesters shouted “make America white again” and “Jews will not replace us” as well as other Nazi slogans while they carried Confederate battle flags, swastikas, and other similar extremist group symbols.

I would like to think that if there is consensus about anything in our fractious, divided world, it is that the genocidal ideology of Adolf Hitler should be permanently rejected, and that slavery was evil and its end was a huge step forward for the United States.

Berklee’s mission statement is unique in American higher education because it explicitly states that our curriculum is…“founded on jazz and popular music rooted in the African cultural diaspora.” And what we know as the Great American Songbook is filled with the seminal compositions of Jewish Americans. I’m proud of the early welcome we gave to Islamic artists like Arif Mardin, whose many great achievements include producing Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” a song that should inspire us in the midst of this current unrest. Today our students come from Israel, Iran, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Japan, Korea, and China, as well as virtually every state in the union.

Within Berklee, we embrace a wide range of ideological and political differences while absolutely affirming that hatred of a religious minority or one particular ethnic group is not acceptable.

I condemn the hateful thinking and language of the neo-Nazis and Klansmen who gathered in Charlottesville. Let me be clear that I am not questioning their right to state their opinions peacefully, even though I abhor those views. And I unequivocally condemn the violence that killed Heather Heyer. I am committed to working to ensure that Berklee is a place that embraces people from all cultures, religions, races, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. I ask you to join me in re-committing to our ideals, even if the world around us becomes more hostile and inhumane. It is in troubled times like these that we show what we truly believe in and stand up for those values, or as Heather Heyer’s mother entreated us, “turn anger into righteous action.”

Sincerely,

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Roger H. Brown
President, Berklee