The Rev. Dr. William Barber II: A Message to Drew’s Class of 2017
Stand up for justice, says the 2003 graduate of Drew Theological School.
May 2017 – The following is the Sesquicentennial Address that the Rev. Dr. William Barber II delivered at Drew University’s 149th Commencement on May 13.
To all of the graduates—the greatest honor, I believe, in life, is to be honored in the work of service to others.
The Bible declares that the measure of life is to do justice, to love mercy and walk humbly before God. Jesus said, “He that is greatest among you, let them be your servant.”
One hundred and fifty years ago, Madame President, Drew University was founded to educate servants. Its first president was an abolitionist who was charged with inciting a riot because he stood up against slavery and injustice. Graduates, we ought all to all pray that in our time we might also be charged because we choose to stand for what is right against what is wrong.
In a time when politicians who have healthcare try to take healthcare from the very people that elected them and healthcare is not seen as a human right, not something that you should only have if you can buy it, let us hope that we are charged because we choose to stand up for what is right against what is wrong.
When racism, in systemic form is still alive, through voter suppression and criminalization, let us hope that we too are charged because we choose to stand for what is right against what is wrong.
When far too many want to sing God bless America, God shed a grace on us, but then we refuse to have grace and we instead choose to be afraid of the “other”—the immigrant other, the gay other, the Muslim other—let us hope that we are charged because we stand for what is right against what is wrong.
When poverty—because of systemic and pornographic greed and a philosophy that treats corporations like people and people like things—still exists in ways and numbers that are totally unacceptable and contrary to our moral, religious and Constitutional call to establish justice and care for the poor, let us hope that in our time we too are charged because we choose to stand for what is right against what is wrong.
When education is too often under-funded and when the war economy is over-funded and we have forces that refuse to take care of Mother Earth but would name a weapon of destruction the mother of all bombs, let us hope that in this moment we too are charged because we choose to stand for what is right versus what is wrong.
Yes, we should be accused of protesting injustice. Yes, we too should be accused of inciting a non-violent riot against the forces of injustice. And I pray today that all of you will be accused—at some point of your life—of being a part of those who protest injustice in the name of love, and in the name of truth and in the name of mercy.
I, in fact, hope that this 149th graduation inducts you into the society of those past and present who recognize that in every generation, somebody has to be charged for standing up for justice.
Lastly, in every generation we must have moral dissenters who challenge the notions and hypocrisy of evil, oppression and injustice. In every generation we must have moral defibrillators who recognize when the nation has a heart problem, who recognize when we are suffering from a moral arrhythmia and choose to use their lives in non-violent methods to shock the heart and the soul of this nation. And in every generation, we must have moral dreamers who refuse to give in to the nightmarish realities and the ugliness of injustice, but instead they continue to believe and live subversive dreams rooted in God’s power to revive, redeem and resurrect us from any valley of injustice at any moment of social misery.
It is with this hope and belief, Madame President, that I receive this honorary degree of humane letters. It is with this hope and belief that I pray that every graduate here and every person here will leave here recognizing that the true measure of life is not the size of your bank account or the buildings you own and put your name on them or the power that you possess. But the true measure of life is, did you work? Did you strive to feed the hungry, to care for the sick, to loose the prisoners and to care for the least of these? I pray that when you graduate here today you will continue to try to be a servant of love and justice until the day comes that you meet your maker and you hear your maker say, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.”
God bless you.