January 30, 2023
Grieving the life and loss of Tyre Nichols: A call to collective action
There is a visceral tragedy to the fact that just days before Black History Month begins, we are once again witness to brutality and lack of humanity directed at a Black person. We soon will again proclaim support of Black and African Americans, but celebrating accomplishments and drawing attention to Black excellence can be exploitative if we do not recognize and act on the fact that much of the oppression and pain that our Black brothers, sisters, and siblings have borne are very much felt in the present, not only the past. The anger, the exhaustion, the need for action, change, and accountability, is real and present. Not imagined. Not past tense. Just as the contributions and excellence and accomplishments of Black Americans are not something found only in history, the suffering of Black people in America is alive and well today.
The killing of Tyre Nichols by police is beyond horrifying. And there is, without question, a cumulative nature to these horrors, amplifying the psychological impact and burden with each iteration. Black and African Americans have suffered at the hands of those with power since before the founding of our nation, and each incident is a brutal reminder that our country’s foundations and ongoing culture are riddled with a systemic problem we have yet to fully address and heal. Given this reality, we are committed to curating spaces for healing and thriving.
To this end, it is important that each of us be especially compassionate, considerate, and careful with each other. Everyone with a shred of humanity will feel profoundly saddened by what happened, but the impact is more profound and different for our Black colleagues, students, and community members. This was not just a video of something unthinkable – it is a real and present threat that Black people feel and live with daily in our country. Acknowledge, offer support, hold space, and give grace.
The question often asked after such events is, “But what can one person do?” The answer is, “So much.” We each hold power to identify and disrupt harm and violence. We have the power to hold ourselves, our peers, and the institutions of which we are part, accountable. We can call together our communities – at work, at school, in our neighborhoods and places of worship – to collectively act to transform the policies, practices, institutions, and systems that perpetuate this harm.
The School of Nursing is actively developing policies specific to actions when injustice occur; we are planning to host an online space where we can come together to discuss anger, grief, and whatever range of reactions with the hope of building community. We plan moments of silence at public events this week and next to reflect on our collective actions. We will shift our culture from reacting to the injustices to building skills for collective action.
In the midst of grief, there is considerable work to be done. Tyre’s death does not mean that all efforts to dismantle violence against Black people are a failure. It just means that such efforts must be redoubled. It further elucidates the need for our Center for Anti-Racism in Nursing, and for us to speak candidly and compassionately with one another about how to make meaningful and sustained change happen. This work must be done locally and nationally, because racism is both a personal challenge and a systemic failing.
As a school of nursing, we represent the profession of healing, restoration, renewal, repair. We are caretakers. This charge does not stop at the technical conclusions of giving physical aid. It extends to the nurturing of the soul and the advocacy for justice that is balm to mental anguish and terror. There will not be an end to this loss, this brutality, until we take that charge seriously as individuals who are not at direct risk of this particular outgrowth of depravity. Black people cannot do this alone.
It is fitting that the theme for Black History Month is “Resistance.” You can honor the lives of Tyre Nichols…and George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubery, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Oluwatoyin Salau, and Trayvon Martin… and too many others before them, by resisting the notion that this is an unsolvable problem, or that there is nothing you can really do. We each have power and collectively, we must put it to use.
We will each need time and space to process what we’ve seen and understand the full scope of what is happening—and what needs to happen next. If you or someone you know needs support, the University offers resources (at the end of this message), which we encourage you to use. This week, the School of Nursing will also offer a virtual space for folks to share, to grieve, to comfort, and to find community.
As healthcare professionals, finding solutions to harm, violence, and racism is part of our job. We have the tools and capacity to research, inform, and educate. Join us in putting those tools to work.
In shared grief and collective restoration,
Monica R. McLemore
Interim Director of Center for Anti-Racism in Nursing
Butch de Castro
Assistant Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- UW CareLink (PEBB benefits eligible employees, their dependents and household members)
- Let’s Talk (Seattle campus)
- Accessing mental health care (Seattle campus students)
- Counseling services (UW Tacoma students)
- Counseling services (UW Bothell students)
- UW Student Counseling Center
- Bias Reporting Tool– To report incidents of bias or violations of UW policies for non-discrimination
- Washington State Human Rights Commission Complaint Form