Below are two messages reflecting the recent series of mass shootings and the current state of this country, addressed to our students and alums; one from Dr. Elías Ortega, President of Meadville Lombard, and another from Dr. Pamela Lightsey, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs.
As I was coming of age in the '90s, it was a daily ritual to open the newspaper hoping not to see a familiar face in its front page. During those years, it was likely that a friend, a family member, or someone I would recognize would be lost to senseless violence. Sadly, such news came so often that I grew numb to the reality; in some sense, it was expected, normalized even. For a time in my life, I felt a false sense of security that those days were over.
In less than a week, mass-shootings have claimed lives in Gilroy, California; Dayton, Ohio; El Paso, Texas. These come at the heels of other mass-shootings that punctuate the life of the nation with regularity. We have been here before, but what will we do differently this time? It seems that, after the initial outrage dies down, we fall back to business as usual, and live our lives as if they could go back to normal. Either because we have grown desensitized to the violence, or because we feel too small to do something big enough to change the situation, we fail to transform this reality.
Over the next few days, you will hear pundits debating over what happened. There will be those looking for ways to parse out the guilt and reason their way through the impact of violence. There will be those offering arguments for solutions that are often at odds with each other. There will be others who will take the opportunity to instill fear, and stoke the fires of hatred, fueling them with racist rhetoric — some of them among us.
Over the next few days, you may take part in actions of public witness, in rituals of mourning, you may seek for words and acts to comfort those in pain in our midst. For you, whether from a pulpit, a classroom, an intimate setting, I pray for courage, hope, and inspiration as you carry on this sacred work. I also pray that we grow in our collective understanding that these acts of violence are not random. They are steeped in our nation's investment in heteropatriarchy, sexism, gender oppression, racism, disregard for the foreigners, and the constant turning from those in need and living in precarious conditions.
There is much work ahead for us to do. As we engage it, let us keep in mind that this is sacred work. It is the labor of shaping our lives with compassion and justice, not only for those whom we love, or those who make us feel comfortable or those who look, speak and act like we do; no. It is to shape life by the higher demands of justice because lives are at stake.
I really thought I had somehow clicked on an old article when I opened my phone during the early hours of this day. "At Least 9 Dead, 26 Injured in Mass Shooting in Downtown Dayton." My heart began to hurt when I saw the date and time stamp. Aug 4, 2019, 5:41 AM ET.
In less than 24 hours, nearly thirty people have been killed by mass shooters filled with hatred. Some will rightly address the weapons they used. Rifles, handguns, high-capacity magazines. If that is all that is addressed, the full story has not been told. Yes, we need, we must have universal background checks, stronger gun controls. No, that is not the only response to what is currently happening.
“They have a word, it sort of became old-fashioned, it’s called a nationalist. And I say, ‘Really, we’re not supposed to use that word.’ You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word.” — Trump, 10/22/18
What is happening has been motivated by hatred, by racism invoked from the highest political office in our country. It is the rise in white nationalism. It is the picking up of arms by its adherents. It is the baptism of this ideology from Christian Evangelicalism.
This violence will not be eradicated by handwringing, by "what can I do", or by the naivety that entrusts the protection of children, immigrants, Muslims and people of color to empty words of prayer and toleration of the bigotry sitting across the table at family meals. This violence will be eradicated by speaking hard truths, by knowing the history of those truths, by the courage to look within our own selves to wrestle with those truths and to commit ourselves to the hard, the very hard work of fighting for the liberation of all people.
This beloved school can be the resource for learning the history and learning how to speak and receive those hard truths. Yet, the work is each of ours to do and to do within a community of freedom fighters. This week, President Ortega and I will be traveling to Ferguson — by invitation — to commemorate the life of Michael Brown 5 years since he was killed. We have been asked to address the ways our vocation has changed since August 2014. That is, to ask how are we being relevant in our work since Brown's body lay on the hot street of Ferguson, Missouri. Wherever you are, I trust you will take time this week to remember that dreadful day and the many days of killing and oppression of Black and Brown and LGBTQ bodies that have occurred and continues to take place.
I trust that we will take seriously how we might use what we know and what we are learning to reduce and eradicate the radical white supremacy that is killing, literally killing, innocent people. Let that be the highest order of our days.
Take care and take courage,