Diversity scholar Terrell Lamont Strayhorn, PhD, will discuss creating a sense of belonging as part of his keynote address during two separate events June 20 on the Belknap and Health Sciences Center campuses.
Strayhorn is a professor of education and psychology, director of the Center for the Study of HBCUs and principal investigator of The Belonging Lab at Virginia Union University. He also serves as Diversity Scholar-in-Residence at Harrisburg Area Community College. As president and CEO of Do Good Work Consulting Group, a minority-owned business, Strayhorn partners with hundreds of colleges, universities, corporations and agencies each year to enhance culture, build inclusive environments and boost belonging.
UofL News caught up with Strayhorn to talk about his work, along with his thoughts around Juneteenth, the day commemorating the delayed emancipation of enslaved people in the United States on June 19, 1865.
UofL News: How has our understanding of Juneteenth shifted the past few years?
Strayhorn: The recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is important because we give time to those things that matter. It creates a collective pause to think and reflect, certainly acknowledging the progress we’ve made as well as raise up some of the continuing challenges that we face so that we can together envision a future that’s brighter and more equal and more just. It commemorates our freedom and our ever-evolving quest toward racial justice in this country.
UofL News: It’s been said Juneteenth hopes to inspire change through vision, voice and vote. How do you see activism and engagement bringing change?
Strayhorn: We know that we have some social miseries and nightmares that disproportionately impact communities of color. Right now, with, anti-LGBTQI+ policies, state sponsored violence against Black and Brown communities, police brutality, shameful public killings of African American men and women and trans people, and people who live at the intersection of all these identities, we need to create more change. Juneteenth provides an opportunity to reflect on our progress, being honest about our current status, and then finding appropriate, effective but nonviolent ways to champion the cause of racial justice.
UofL News: In our society today, where do you see a welcome and positive intersection of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging?
Strayhorn: We need more of what we know works well in fostering conditions for racial justice, for collective healing, for sense of belonging. That inclusive environment happens at culturally diverse institutions like Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Black museums and cultural centers, and Black churches, places which have for a long time been safe havens. This is not just for Black students, but for disenfranchised white students, for first generation students, for low-income students, for international students.
In 2020, during Black Lives Matter, when the world was on fire, the people with water to help tame the flame weren’t court appointed, certified firefighters. It was the people who had fire in their belly and could speak passionately about George Floyd’s killing. It was the millennial, the Gen-Zer, who could take the mic at the rally and help us realize, wow, the future is looking pretty bright because we have some people who are reaching across the aisle and across racial divides and saying, ‘Not on my watch.’
UofL News: How can universities and students at universities best exhibit leadership in commemorating Juneteenth?
Strayhorn: What we need to bring these lessons to life are committed, courageous, socially conscious faculty, students and leaders who can champion a cause and create change.
Everybody wants to belong and it’s what we share in common because we’re human. The message of Eric Garner, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others is this implication that some people don’t belong here, and that some people’s lives don’t matter. I am profoundly committed on a personal, professional and even a spiritual and metaphysical level to fight that message and to say that we all belong here.
We’re all worthy. We are enough and never too much, but we only get there if we get there together.
Learn more and register for one of the June 20 keynote events sponsored by the Office of the President, Office of Institutional Equity, College of Business and the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA). Learn more on the Office of Institutional Equity website.