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“I Can’t Breathe — Can We Hear?”


Editor’s Note: This statement was written by AdventHealth University President Edwin Hernández and sent to the AHU campus community on June 1, 2020. It is shared in full below:

Dear AHU family,

For George Floyd, my heart aches. For his family and friends, my being aches. For my Black brothers and sisters in Christ, my soul aches. The pain of another needless death at the hands of those sworn to protect lives is the worst kind of pain. This total disregard for human life reflects total blindness that the person crying out—I can’t breathe—is a human being, a child of God, created in the image of God.

I ask myself, what would I have done if I were a bystander listening to the cries of someone calling out for mercy, begging to breathe.

We are experiencing two pandemics—the stealthy killer of more than 103,000 Americans in less than three months—and the outrageous assassin that has taken countless Black and brown lives through slavery, lynching, economic marginalization, false accusations, mass incarceration, unjust imprisonment, and police brutality. Both are deadly killers. Both can be prevented.

The expression I can’t breathe has been heard from city streets, rural farms, and nursing homes across the U.S. and the world. It is the cry resulting from COVID19, suffocating the lungs and taking the lives of beloved family and friends.

The cry I can’t breathe also comes from children and young people being denied education because of failing school systems and prejudicial teachers. The words I can’t breathe protest the burden and unfairness of overrepresentation in the prison system and on death row. Cries of I can’t breathe come from families without access to essential health care. Pleas of I can’t breathe came from Eric Garner and now, George Floyd.

Just as the insidious Corona virus infects the bodies of vulnerable human beings, the communicable scourge of racism infects the most susceptible human cultures—together producing a perfect storm of death and despair that has erupted in protest. 

Both silent killers require action. The inaction of government leaders earlier this year has resulted in a shocking toll of death and economic decline in the U.S. The inaction of police officers allowed one man’s knee to end another man’s life as he begged for mercy and cameras rolled. I can’t breathe. Failure to act is to participate in the crime.

What human sensibility and consciousness allows one to feel no sense of response to the pleading cries?  What human being isn’t moved by the calls for help from a deceased mother?  How cold does the heart have to be to not hear the grunting cries that I can’t breathe?

The pervasiveness of racism is no longer invisible. It is recorded far too often in the U.S. on personal phones… as a young man jogs along a road, as a professional man watches birds in a city park, as a police officer takes a knee to end a life. And, yet, even when the evidence is clear and seemingly irrefutable—people are acquitted, cases are dismissed.

The cries for justice rise to the heavens.

Today, I ask the AHU community to pause in solidarity with our Black colleagues and students. Express your care and concern. Let us grieve together. Let us pledge that we will create a beloved community that practices and teaches cultural humility.

The Christian community always thinks and acts from the future back. The future back is the perspective that hope triumphs over despair, love over hatred, peace over violence, unity over division. It is that future-back thinking and acting that is needed today. Let us remind the world that all are created equal and in God’s image (Gen 1:27), that there should be no barriers between us (Eph 3:14-18), and that all have value and stand equally in the sight of God (Gal 3:26-29).

Let us advance the truth that we are all equal in God’s sight, brimming with unmeasurable potential. Let us make AHU a place where human indifference and willful ignorance can’t breathe.

In solidarity for a peaceable kingdom in the here and now,


Edwin I. Hernández, PhD

President & CEO

AdventHealth University




Photo courtesy of AdventHealth University.


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