Clergy for Black Lives, a collective of clergy members from throughout Southern California, sent a letter to California State University, Los Angeles (CSU Los Angeles) President, William Covino, on July 11, 2020 to inquire as to his reasoning for not appointing Dr. Melina Abdullah as the Inaugural Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies, the second College of Ethnic Studies in the nation. President Covino responded on July 13, 2020, stating that he was not on campus and could not address personnel matters.
In President Covino’s refusal to meet and respond to our request, Clergy for Black Lives held a press conference and rally on the campus of CSU Los Angeles on July 13, 2020, again requesting an in-person meeting. In response to our presence on campus, which was peaceful and strictly adhered to social distancing protocols, President Covino sent out a campus-wide email, stating that our presence was a security risk.
Pastor William D. Smart, President and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC-SC) remarks that, “We find it reprehensible that President Covino treated Dr. Abdullah, Clergy for Black Lives as well as the community of stakeholders and constituents with such lack of respect. This is a very deleterious time for African Americans and other ethnic minorities; however, respect, in spite of George Floyd, is hard coming for African Americans. So many times, African Americans have been over qualified for positions they have been denied.”
“Shouldn’t the President of CSU Los Angeles want to meet with stakeholders? Unfortunately, this decision threatens the already fragile relationship between the Black community and university,” Rev. Dr. James M. Thomas noted.
Pastor Kevin Sauls, Progressive, Prophetic, Pluralistic Advocate and Consultant in Intersectionality, Inclusivity, Equality and Equity acknowledged, “The resistance of the President and Provost at Cal-State Los Angeles to appoint Dr. Melina Abdullah as the Inaugural Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies is a tri-convergence of retaliation, revealing a lack of imagination and institutional racial, gender and religious discrimination. Her appointment will be a win-win, as it will be blessed by the courage of an intersectional academician and the connections of a catalytic activist, who will develop the College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State Los Angeles into a dynamic local, national and global platform, advancing the deconstruction of white supremacy and the reconstruction of God’s beloved world community.”
The Clergy for Black Lives enlisted the support of some of the most prominent leaders in the Black community, including Congresswoman Maxine Waters, City Council President Emeritus, Herb Wesson, and famed actor, Danny Glover. As a further push from constituents within the community for Dr. Abdullah’s appointment as Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies, thousands signed our online petition and have been actively engaged in virtual as well as in-person actions for the last several weeks.
President Covino and the University have used claims of an ever-shifting process as an excuse to refuse their appointment of Dr. Abdullah, who has formally applied for the position and is eligible for appointment. According to the University handbook as well as past practice, President Covino has the authority to appoint the Dean.
As a historically Black organization, the SCLC-SC understands the need for culturally sound, community-based education. Thus, we depend deeply on the roots and culture of ethnic studies,” asserted Pastor Thembekila Smart, President of Women of SCLC-SC and Pastor of Christ Liberation Ministries, affirming the need for “encapsulating and instilling within students the skills necessary to encourage the fire of many diverse communities and cultures around the globe. This is why the SCLC-SC and Clergy for Black Lives take such an interest in the selection and the opening of the Inaugural Department of Ethnic Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. We have great hope that this department will be led by our own, Dr. Melina Abdullah, who is a dynamic educator and community leader. We see this as a wonderful opportunity and season to empower women.”
Rev. Edward L. Anderson, Senior Pastor, McCarty Memorial Christian Church, further highlighted the importance of the season of empowering women, “Dr. Melina Abdullah epitomizes the praxis of critical pedagogy and what a scholar, which Paulo Freie coins, ‘the pedagogy of the oppressed’ that is essential to the educational formation of ethnic students. Thus, we, the members of the community and faculty, were disillusioned to learn that Dr. Abdullah’s candidacy was no longer under consideration for reasons yet to be disclosed or delineated to the public. Therefore, it leads us to conclude that the refusal to appoint Dr. Abdullah is retaliation for her outspoken activism and radical scholarship that is a clarion call to academia to not be complicit in the erasure of Black women in institutions of higher education. We certainly hope this is not the case and that the University would take the advice of Asian scholar, Kwok Pui Lan, as this is a dialethic moment in history and lean into your postcolonial imagination around what the inaugural Deanship for Dr. Melina Abdullah would mean for Cal State Los Angeles and the cutting edge scholarship students and community will be able to encounter under her leadership.”
Minister Stanley Talbert pointed to the fact that “In the wake of systemic injustice and institutionalized racism, a wave of colleges, universities, and even public schools have made appropriate changes to address the pandemic associated with Covid-19 and racism.” He further mentioned that “in light of the movement toward justice, the Clergy for Black Lives unanimously support Dr. Melina Abdullah for the inaugural Deanship for CSU Los Angeles College of Ethnic Studies,” with empirical evidence from John Dewey, a philosopher of education, who suggests that teachers should become intimately acquainted with the local community’s conditions in a physical, historical, economic, and occupational way as educational resources. Dewey’s philosophy of education calls for a pedagogy that radically and concretely engages the community and its dimensions. Dr. Abdullah is the best dean for the College of Ethnic Studies at CSU Los Angeles, given her intimate knowledge of our community and its myriad aspects. For over a decade, Dr. Abdullah has proven that she is not only an intellectual giant, but her pedagogy radically engages and even transforms our community for the better. While others may qualify for the Dean’s position theoretically, no other professor has the institutional and communal experience, as is evidenced by Dr. Melina Abdullah.
Pastor Stephen “Cue” Jn’Marie from The Church Without Walls echoed this sentiment. He stated, “Dr. Melina Abdullah, through her activism and community engagement as well as her leadership of what historians are now calling one of the largest movements for social justice in U.S. history and possibly the world, Black Lives Matter, a movement that began in Los Angeles, from which Cal State Los Angeles has benefitted, attributable to the presence of Dr. Melina Abdullah on the campus. We are perplexed that the administration would not even consider her for the post of inaugural Dean of the second College of Ethnic Studies in the state. We say then, who is more qualified? We question whether Cal State Los Angeles has any connection to the Black community in Los Angeles. We declare that the process of Dean appointment of President Covino is very disappointing and shocking.”
President Covino’s position is not only an assault on Dr. Abdullah, but an affront and disrespect to Black leadership and Black people more broadly.
“At the core of the Civil Rights movement, was the urgency that America would become a place where all men and women are judged on the ‘content of their character’ and merit, not any other politicized bias,” Rev. Dr. Najuma Smith-Pollard, Founding Pastor of Word of Encouragement Church, Los Angeles rallied. She further posited that “For President Covino and other powers to block Dr. Melina Abdullah from the role of Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at CSU Los Angeles makes President Covino and the University accomplices in perpetuating this academic injustice. This display is the kind of thing Dr. King stood against. One cannot say he or she supports the message of civil rights, justice, equity, equality and freedom and at the same time unrighteously block Dr. Abdullah from this position. Sadly, the greatest causalities in this foolishness will not be the academy leaders, politicians, or any other collaborators of injustice; but it will be the youth and young adults of Los Angeles, to include our white youth and young adults who come into a greater awareness of history and self under the tutelage of Dr. Abdullah. The behavior of President Covino and others like him, demonstrates a gross lack of care and interest for the future minds of Los Angeles. No progressive future forward thinking person should ignore this diabolical act.”
No one is more qualified or committed than Dr. Abdullah for this position. She has earned the support of students, faculty, staff, and community within the Black community and beyond. Dr. Abdullah brings the depth and breadth of qualifications, integrity and credibility among her peers, influencing and impacting the community to make the second College of Ethnic Studies in the United States a ferocious and contagious intellectual force for racial equity. We know what this would mean to the people, whom we serve, to have a woman, a person of color, and community advocate to lead in this historical move; it would be world changing. Dr. Melina Abdullah’s advancement into this position would have cataclysmic effects in the realms of social justice, cultural youth education and women’s empowerment.
Ase and Amen,
Pastors William and Thembekila Smart
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
and Clergy for Black Lives