The Howard University motto of “Truth and service” seems to convey a sense of humility; we simply pursue the truth and use that truth to serve our community. But there is actually an audacity to those principles. To pursue truth when there are those who seek to obscure reality requires unflagging courage. To promote service that appears to compete against others’ self-interest requires uncompromising dedication. And to do what is right when there are those who champion what is wrong requires undaunted leadership.
With the world on the brink of change as we work to put the coronavirus pandemic behind us, we should be thinking less about a return to normal and more about a redirection into something entirely new. The Howard University community knows all too well the powerful forces of inertia that weigh down and hold back social progress. Especially when feelings of nostalgia for a lost year will compel society to reflect backwards rather than look forward, it is our distinct duty to ensure that we as a country move in the right direction.
As an institution and as a community of individuals, Howard has a responsibility to lead the change – and we are leading it.
As an institution, when we saw the disparities in how African-American men and women were suffering from the pandemic, we called it out as wrong and led the efforts to make it right. We stood up COVID-19 testing centers in Ward 7 and Ward 8 in Washington, D.C., and made the tests free to anyone, even at a time when most people needed a doctor’s note to get one. We established a vaccination center within the Howard University College of Medicine to ensure that Black men and women could get vaccinated when so many in minority communities were being overlooked in vaccine distribution.
As individuals, members of the Howard family are everywhere, advocating for social justice, proposing solutions to make our society more just, and leading the work that is making justice happen in our society. We are in corporate boardrooms fighting for greater diversity and inclusion. We are in the health care system fighting for more equitable medical access. We are in state houses fighting to protect the vote. And we are in the White House fighting to help America realize its founding values of freedom and justice for all.
This is what Howard is all about. Our students don’t come to the Mecca to get a degree – they come here for an education, an experience that awakens their purpose in life. From within our nation’s capital, Howard has a historic responsibility both to hold our government to account when it falls short of its promises and to partner with our government so that it may live up to its highest potential.
Since our founding by federal charter in 1867, we have worked to achieve a more diverse, equitable and just society. Our students, faculty and alumni are more than leaders; we are more than visionaries; we are more than missionaries. Howard summons, molds and disseminates community-shapers, history-makers and world-changers whose impact is measured not by the headlines we make, but by the truths we reveal and the service we provide. At Howard, excellence is not the exception – it is expected.
From those simple words – “truth and service” – come heavy expectations that we will most certainly live up to.
Excellence in Truth and Service,
Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA
Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery
Howard University President