The very fact that Patrick Healy, born a southern slave, became the head of a predominantly white university when race riots and Jim Crow laws were commonplace in the United States merits celebration. Period. Regardless of whether Healy openly acknowledged his black identity or whether he identified with his African roots, he broke down barriers.
To say otherwise, as D. Pierce Nixon did (?Twisting Healy Legacy Disrespectful, THE HOYA, Sept. 11, 2007, A3), is to do his life and all his contributions and work injustice. His racial identity was ?part of who he was? even if he didn?t acknowledge it, and it cannot be separated from his legacy.
Heroes are often only recognized as such in retrospect. In black history, it does not matter whether a celebrated icon intended to be part of a movement: We point to individual successes in the past in order to inspire and motivate similar achievements now and in the future. We certainly do not look to our leaders to be without flaws ? indeed, it is the ability to overcome flaws that makes heroes accessible and inspirational. Has Georgetown seen a second example of Healy?s achievements? Has there been a major black leader at GU since then who didn?t do his best work in McDonough Gymnasium?
Indeed, Healy was ?the first black president? and should be recognized as that. Reluctance to label himself as such was more a reflection of the historical context during which he lived, its pressures to ?pass for white? and negate one?s African heritage. Regardless, he still stands as a proud symbol of how people of color achieved at Georgetown, even if he unfortunately chose not to publicly embrace his identity.
While Nixon is not wrong in his stance against reinterpreting Healy?s legacy to fit an ideal that makes Georgetown proud and progressive, his claim that race does not matter falters. If Georgetown University does in fact want to stand proudly behind Healy?s accomplishments, the challenge now is to be ever conscious of finding ways to more fully incorporate people of color, recognize their contributions and foster an environment where downplaying one?s racial identity is not the only avenue to success. If we do not remember Healy?s racial background, regardless of his own non-identification with it, part of his legacy and its positive message for Georgetown will be lost.
Yamiche Alcindor (COL ’09)
Amy Hang (COL ’09)
Xaivier Ringer (COL ’08)