Early this year, LaToya J. Burrell felt comfortable with the lifestyle she had attained as an attorney, professor, and college dean. Indeed, Burrell, the daughter of teenaged, unwed parents of modest means in Louisiana, is the first in her family to graduate from college. She later became an attorney married to another attorney, and enjoyed living comfortably as a university faculty member and dean.
But the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody and subsequent riots, only 2½ miles from her downtown Minneapolis home, changed everything. Burrell is associate professor of business administration at North Central University and also dean of graduate education and accreditation.
Burrell, 36, never considered herself an activist, never one to rock the boat. Still, at the request of friends and acquaintances, she voiced her viewpoints on race by creating a series of short videos on social media. The videos spurred discussions among those who forwarded them to others. Before long, Burrell began writing Be Bold: How to Prepare Your Heart and Mind for Racial Reconciliation.
“I never intended to write a book,” says Burrell who holds a Master of Business Administration from Metropolitan State University and a Juris Doctorate from Southern University Law Center. “I just wanted to get the message out.”
The timely book, published Nov. 1, marks a departure for Burrell, who says she customarily has striven for harmony and gone out of her way to smile. She realizes some may erroneously view her as an “angry Black woman” because of her passionate demeanor.
“I’m normally not the one who is vocal,” Burrell says. “But it is worth the risk to be vocal on racial reconciliation.”
While conceding it’s not her role to “educate everyone else,” Burrell nonetheless believed she had a responsibility to voice her opinions.
“Silence speaks volumes and can sometimes be viewed as being complicit,” Burrell writes in Be Bold. “Not speaking up was also somewhat sparked by the fear of being misunderstood and ultimately risking what I had worked hard for.”
Burrell realizes everyone’s perspective is shaded by their own background and experiences. But when sharing dissimilar incidents in life, people learn to better appreciate others, she believes. The book has questions designed for group discussion.
The author has received feedback from several African American readers who didn’t realize key moments in U.S. history that aren’t necessarily taught in schools. Be Bold is a primer on slavery, segregation, and the civil rights movement.
“We have to know oppressive history so it doesn’t repeat,” Burrell says. “It’s not to make people feel guilty for something they didn’t have any control over; it’s to get to a place of reconciliation and healing.”
Like many Blacks, Burrell experienced both overt and covert racism growing up. She believes the “unintentional” acts of racism can be just as harmful because the offender often doesn’t feel the need to apologize. Frequently in corporate and academic settings, Burrell has been the lone African American in the room, and occasionally the target of an insensitive racial remark.
“We are not born racist; we are instead taught to hate and to be prejudicial even if indirectly,” Burrell writes in Be Bold.
She notes that not a week goes by that someone makes a comment on the different skin shades of the sons she’s had with husband Gregory. Grayson, 6, is lighter than Garrison, 2. Still, Burrell questions those who claim to be “color-blind.”
“Not seeing my color suggests to me that you are choosing not to see a part of me or my identity,” Burrell writes. “If you cannot see my color, you will not hear me talk about experiences as a woman of color.”
She says the grace of God is responsible for her rise. Her confidence emanated from an early age by realizing her identity in Christ.
The Burrells, who married in 2009, began attending Corner Church in 2013, even before LaToya joined the North Central faculty two years later. The Assemblies of God congregation has been actively engaged in racial reconciliation efforts.
Despite the racial unrest in Minneapolis this year, Burrell says it’s still a much more tolerant place than her native Louisiana. North Central University hosted the Minneapolis memorial service for George Floyd, which she attended, as well as established a student scholarship in his name.
North Central President Scott A. Hagan calls Burrell a trusted voice on campus who lives her passion for Jesus clearly and openly. Of all the published materials written on racial reconciliation in this difficult year, Hagan says Burrell’s rises to the top.
“LaToya’s book has a great biblical perspective and a biblical game plan,” says Hagan, 58. “While a lot of people are interpreting the times, very few people are showing the way forward biblically as LaToya does.”
Minneapolis, a city that is 64 percent white and 19 percent Black according to the U.S. Census. Hagan notes that 30 percent of the current student body are ethnic minorities.
Hagan also notes that students of color represent the fastest-growing population among high school graduates.
“Assemblies of God universities must be effective at welcoming and training these students in Pentecostal leadership,” Hagan says.