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Executive Remarks, Student Body President Lamar Richards

“To Drink from the Well”

September 21, 2021


Transcript

Good Afternoon Everyone,

I am happy to be with you all today, as we gather to discuss the revitalizing and crucial scholarship that is To Drink From The Well – an exhaustive, in-depth analysis of the racially-charged past of this university. 

At the 1993 bicentennial celebration of the university’s founding, famed journalist and UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus Charles Kuralt stood on a stage full of white men, gazing into a crowd filled with mostly white people and uttered words that still ring through the halls of Carolina even today. “What is it that binds us to this place, like no other?” he asked. “It is not the well or the bell or stone walls… No, our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the University of the people.”

Yet, since then not a single leader of the university has met the burden of those very words. The truth is, as student body president, I have been asking myself that very question while navigating the most recent racially-charged failures of leadership at UNC. To what, if anything, binds my people to this place? This summer, my statements encouraging other Black students not to attend UNC made national headlines. Yet I stayed and I’m sure many of you wondered why? Why would this person that told others to leave choose to stay?

The reality is that the forces binding me to UNC are the same ones that kept my people on the Underground Railroad, even when they couldn’t see daylight. It’s the same force that kept Black families going from bank to bank, applying for mortgages even after they received a “no” at each turn. And it’s the same force that led Professor Nikole Hannah-Jones to fight for tenure at a university that only gave her disrespect in return. The Nikole Hannah-Jones situation was so complex, yet very simple.

Unsurprisingly, the very faculty at UNC that wrote letters supporting her case for tenure oppose the very flexibility in the classroom that supports marginalized students like flexible attendance policies, holistic admissions, and direct student support. This proves that this was simply about the concept of tenure for them, but it was not for us. For us, it was about reckoning with our history, grappling with our colorful past, demanding recognition, restitution, and reformation. The days of being silent are no longer among us, no longer a luxury that we can afford.

So I asked myself again, “Lamar, what binds you to this place?” And I found that the very things that bind me to this place are the ideals that were absent in the founding of this University. What binds me is Richard Epps, elected UNC’s first Black Student Body President in 1972, Karen Parker, the first Black woman (undergraduate) to graduate from the country’s oldest public university in 1965, and the countless others that came before me upon whose shoulders I stand. What binds me to this place is the pain and perseverance of my people as they forged together the foundation of public education in America — building the very buildings we now learn in at Carolina, brick by brick. It is the same pleading force that allowed my uneducated great-grandmother to raise children that became doctors and lawyers.

It is the love of our people, the aspiration of something greater, the need to be bigger, to be better — to survive. 

May this wonderful work of literature set a blaze to every hiding crevice of oppression, racism, and hatred at this University and dawn upon us a new day to live, breath, and work for a University that we all know and love. 

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