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Biden inauguration CEO: 'One nation' of America must endure | Opinion

Tony Allen
Special to the USA TODAY Network

“And we are forever changed ...”

Yesterday a mob broke into the United States Capitol in an attempt to intimidate Congress into reversing the outcome of the presidential election. Four people tragically died, and many were injured. It was a horrid scene, consistent with a season of division in our country, the likes of which has not occurred since the Red Scare and Army-McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. At the end of yesterday’s events, however, our senators and representatives of both parties completed their duty to certify the election. Yet, the impact is clear: the leader of the free world incited a group of citizens to put a deep and indelible stain on the people’s house, and we are forever changed. 

Our country’s highest ideals have been tested before, and the quest for “a more perfect union” is a direct acknowledgment that our union is forever imperfect. It is the commitment to that quest which matters. We have always managed to find each other again, even amid the tremendous loss of the Civil War and the current uncertain future created by the pandemic.  We are still warmed by the smile of a child, inspired by a word of hope, and emboldened by a belief in a country that cannot overlook the words of its ancestors, “We hold these truths to be self-evident. …”

We need to apply the lessons learned instead of focusing exclusively on the dark periods of the past year. Now is the time to march forward and persevere. In less than two weeks, we will witness the swearing-in of President-elect Joe Biden, who announced his first Senate campaign in 1972 on the hallowed grounds of a proud Historically Black College in Dover, Delaware and a Vice President-Elect who is the quintessential example of the power of these institutions.

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The core truth of their historic ascendency is about the strength and resiliency of a great nation. We learned that very clearly this year at Delaware State University. Here are three lessons that my community will be applying in 2021:

Cooperation works. It’s not easy to bring diverse communities together, investing the time to build consensus, and involving everyone in executing the plan. But when you do, amazing things happen.

How did Delaware State University manage to keep students in residence last fall, with over 35,000 COVID tests and a 1/2% positivity rate when many other sister universities were forced to send students home after multiple super-spreader events? We did it by engaging our entire community — faculty, staff, and students alike — in the joint enterprise of keeping each other safe. We took the time to forge the agreement that nothing was more vital than that. And it worked.

Anyone can choose to be a hero. I was raised with a tradition of heroes, including the Tuskegee Airmen, Freedom Riders, and ranks of unarmed Americans marching resolutely across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Heroes today risk life and health to hold the hands of dying strangers, rack their brains for better ways to touch their students’ minds across the wireless ether, or wear masks and social distance because it might save the life of another American they will never meet.

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At Delaware State University last fall, our heroes included the volunteers who administered those thousands of tests, the residence life staff who delivered food to students in quarantine, the police working hours of overtime to keep our campus safe, and the facilities workers cleaning those buildings yet again.

Change requires a catalyst. The late John Lewis believed that “nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society.” Still, those individuals must be motivated to find that passion. Even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s unjust killings lit a spark that transcended race, a spark that has fanned itself into a self-sustaining flame. The killing of Black Americans has not abated — there are new names to say every month — but there is a palpable difference in the reaction.

From streets of protest to corporate boardrooms, the issue has not disappeared, no matter what else happened. We may not have reached the turning point in our society’s belated response to racism, but our students and young people all over the country are not standing still. At the University, our students are driving change as steadily as our faculty: this year, they created a privately funded Black Lives Matter Boulevard, reached out for dialogue with our police, participated in peaceful protests, and reminded me that the University’s investment portfolio should match its stated values.

Jan 6, 2021; Washington, DC, USA; Trump rioters storm the U.S. Capitol Wednesday afternoon as lawmakers inside debated the certification of the presidential election.  Mandatory Credit: Jerry Habraken-USA TODAY

These lessons all coalesced when state Rep. Paul Baumbach and his wife, Pam, approached us to donate the seed money for endowed scholarships in George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s names. As we cooperate to raise funds necessary to make these scholarships robust enough to support the dreams of as many young people as possible, I am humbled by that confluence of catalyst, cooperation, and quiet heroism in the endeavor.

In the end, we should all commit ourselves to changing the things in American society that we can no longer accept — and we must do so with love and moral conviction, not fear or violence.

There is an adage that “the only thing that remains constant is change. Those who can adapt persevere. Those who cannot merely fade away.” Today, we are forever changed.  But as “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” we MUST forever endure.

Tony Allen is the president of Delaware State University, the chief executive officer for the 59th Presidential Inaugural Ceremonies and a Whitney M. Young Awardee for Advancing Racial Equality, the National Urban League’s highest honor.