Secretary Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at the 2023 National Historical Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference in Washington, DC.
Thanks to Dr. Wallace for the introduction and thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you.
I know the topic is about forging excellence, and harnessing innovation, but I feel that we have to take a step back and talk about something even more fundamental, because in order to achieve excellence, in order to innovate, in order to draw from our students the very best that they have to offer, they have to be safe and feel secure in the environment which in which they learn.
You know, when I was a kid, we used to drill in my elementary school in Los Angeles, California where I grew up. We used to drill in case a fire broke out in the school. We did not drill in case an individual with a firearm would become an active shooter on the playground, or in the hallways, or in the classroom.
A few weeks ago, I dropped our younger daughter off at college and I had the customary anxiety of a father as one's child leaves home and begins to spread her wings as a young adult and begin a journey on her own, always with our support.
But you know, the anxiety abruptly ended because the very next day a white man, who was denied entrance to Edward Waters University, shot and killed three Black individuals in Jacksonville, Florida. And that is a very, very different anxiety for parents, who dropped their children off at school and wonder if their children will be safe and will live to see another day.
You know, the threat landscape has evolved in the 20 years since the Department of Homeland Security was first created. When we were created in 2003, the greatest terrorism related threat we faced in the homeland was the threat of the foreign terrorist – the individual radicalized to violence by a foreign terrorist ideology, who sought to enter the United States to do us grave harm.
Now, the greatest terrorism-related threat we face are individuals already here in the United States, radicalized to violence by an ideology of hate, by anti-government sentiments, by false narratives, personal grievances, or other narratives propagated on online forums.
There is the reality – the fact that hate crimes are on the rise in our country. And our Department’s work is as vital today as it was 20 years ago. The threat landscape has changed, but we are dedicated to making our communities – all of our communities – safe and secure.
And the school environment, the education environment must be sacrosanct. People cannot worry about their safety. They should be dedicated to learning and growing and being able to express themselves through what they learn and what they choose to do with those lessons.
We have a wide array of tools and resources that we provide to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to Minority-Serving Institutions, to ensure that the safety and security that we should be able to take for granted becomes a reality in everyone's life – whether it's $20 million dollars in grant funds to address targeted violence and terrorism prevention, whether it's the advice that we give, the training that we give, the tools that we give to these institutions.
We have a wide array of resources, and we have a Homeland Security Academic Partnership Council that helps guide us in the distribution of funds and the programs and processes and procedures that we employ to make Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Minority-Serving Institutions, more secure and more safe.
I can give a list of the resources and tools, but I won’t do so. But there are three principles I want to articulate.
One is that it is vitally important in our quest for excellence – in our ability to innovate – in our ability to reach the communities we serve, that we in the Department of Homeland Security reflect the diversity of the communities that we serve. And one of our six priorities for the Department of Homeland Security is to achieve diversity, to execute equity, and to live inclusivity. And I will tell you that we have not reached the goals, but we are working tirelessly to do so. So, one, we must walk the walk.
Two is the principle, and I feel this very profoundly, that there is no small act of hate. An act of hate reverberates far beyond the individual or the individuals who are directly impacted. It is felt more broadly than the physical victims of that act of hate. It resonates through the communities of which the direct victims are a part.
And third, is that when there is an act of hate, it is not just the targeted community that is the victim, but it is all of us, because we are a country that stands on the principle that we are united and ultimately, we are one.
And so, if I leave you with only one thought, I would ask then, and I hope that it is this: that the Department of Homeland Security is your Department of Homeland Security. That there is no community of which we are not a part… Inclusivity means not just the inclusivity of people, but inclusivity of institutions in the fabric of the communities that we serve.
And so, I'm very honored to be with you today, very inspired by your gathering and the work that you do, and very committed to achieving the safety and security that will allow everyone to achieve excellence, and innovate, and become leaders in their own right.
Thank you so very much.