Nov 8, 2015
Update Nov 9, 2015: MU System President Tim Wolfe resigns
Edited Nov 10, 2015: this post was edited to more accurately reflect reported details of Michael Brown Jr and Ferguson, MO
I returned to my alma mater last Thursday to speak to student leaders at the University of Missouri-Columbia, affectionately known as Mizzou. The energy on campus was palpable for several reasons: the football team was preparing to play ESPN’s prime time Thursday game of the week, and the SEC Network was also on campus for the game. I was hyped to preview my student leadership program The Superstar Academy, and as I arrived in the campus Student Center I experienced another more powerful energy.
I learned about a group of black students identified as #ConcernedStudent1950 and grad student Jonathan Butler, who has vowed to a #MizzouHungerStrike until University President Tim Wolfe is fired for allegedly allowing an environment to exist where openly racist acts and comments are not condemned by leadership, making it more comfortable for the sentiment to be perpetuated. It is alleged that Wolfe has been silent on several racists’ happenings that occurred this semester, as well as silent to those who openly solicit his voice to help change the environment.
#ConcernedStudent1950 interrupted the Mizzou Homecoming parade on Oct 10 by standing in front of Wolfe’s car to give a demonstration bringing awareness to the university’s history of systematic racism, and asking that he take action to make the university “a more safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for all identities and backgrounds.”
As a former Tiger athlete and Mizzou alum, let me be clear….I love the university and although I know of and have witnessed openly racist individuals as an undergrad, it was never directed at me personally when I was on campus. Growing up in small town Texas I’ve always been aware of racism and if I chose to go off on ignorant people whom I’ve overheard making these comments directly or indirectly, I would’ve been slapping someone in the mouth on a weekly basis for the last 30yrs. At least monthly with the greatest restraint. So today when I hear ignorant or blatantly racist people reveal themselves, it doesn’t have much of an effect on me. It’s not news to me that these people are everywhere, but #ConcernedStudent1950 and Jonathan Butler shined a whole new light on this for me.
While in the Student Center an hour before I was to speak Thursday, I sat beside a table of eight Caucasian students apparently discussing the #MizzouHungerStrike. I wasn’t focused on their conversation until another student walked up and said, “The only good thing to come of this is this guy won’t be able to procreate.” That got my attention, and I visibly turned to look at the group. The eight students who were sitting were noticeably embarrassed, and only one student responded by saying “That’s not cool.”
In an instant I witnessed first hand the level of comfort students have to openly make racists comments, and also the level of discomfort students have with speaking out against those who make these comments.
An hour later I’m speaking and urging students tap into their Star Power potential, and below our room we hear an enormous roar of an organized student walkout protesting the existing hostile race relations on campus. With all the lights and fan fare of major college football, and my Superstar Academy presentation on campus, I realized there was a full embodiment of Everyday Star Power just outside our room.
Some believe my speaking brand, The Everyday Superstar, is some superficial attempt at celebrity superstardom. However, as defined in my book Claim Your Star Power it is the exact opposite: An Everyday Superstar is a person who has chosen to unlock the potential God has placed inside of them and takes action on their dream or vision to impact the world in a powerful and positive way. Everyday Superstars pursue PURPOSE instead of POPULARITY. Everyday Superstars pursue SIGNIFICANCE over SUCCESS, and value MEANING over MONEY.**
These students speaking out and protesting against the hostile environment were small in number in comparison to the 30,000 other people on campus Thursday, but they were the brightest light on the campus of Ol’ Mizzou.
According to an interview with Mic.com, #ConcernedStudent1950 and Jonathan Butler have garnered public support from the Missouri Students Association, the Dept of Classical Studies, and the Dean of the School of Health Professions. Saturday several MU football players joined the movement and stated they will no longer participate in school athletics until Wolfe is removed from his position. The Missouri Athletic Department Spokesman issued a statement of support for these players’ actions.
The ultimate irony is the different responses to a similar culture in the state of Missouri. Less than two hours away from Missouri’s flagship institution is Ferguson, MO where systemic racism and police violence against people of color reached a flashpoint after the shooting of Michael Brown Jr. Some in the community responded to this injustice with violence. But these students have chosen to respond with non-violence and in the most American way by exercising their First Amendment right to free speech and demonstration.
We’ve yet to see which approach will bring about the most change since University President Wolfe still has not made a appearance to denounce the repeated acts of public racism shown by students on campus and on social media.
While it pains me to see this young brother subject himself to suffering on behalf of ignorant and racist people, I am inspired and applaud him for the courage to pursue his dream and vision of a better world. Jonathan Butler is ready to die for his vision to change the hostile culture on the campus of Ol’ Mizzou, but before that happens I pledge to help draw as much attention as possible to this cause.
I’m urging all Mizzou alumni and readers of this blog to support change by 1) educating yourself on the growing situation; 2) urging your local Missouri Alumni Association to voice their concern over Tim Wolfe’s silence on this issue; 3) call for a Missouri university leader to appear publicly to denounce this culture of tolerating racism.
To Jonathan Butler, supporting Mizzou athletes and all students giving voice to this movement to expose and improve race relations on the campus of University of Missouri-Columbia….YOU ARE EVERYDAY SUPERSTARS!!
#PIYOW HELLO WORLD! Witness the light of genuine Star Power!
Click to connect and give your support to Jonathan on Twitter!
**Rome Madison, Claim Your Star Power! (Global Superstar Enterprises 2015) p.27.