Outrage and pain – raw and unadorned – were audible and visible in Minneapolis and nearly every major city in the United States over the past week.
A man, George Floyd, is dead; horrifically and fully dead. Dead under the knee of a white police officer, his gruesome death recorded live for the planet to observe.
George Floyd is a human person and like each of us – imperfect and “a work in progress.” He is a son, a father, a brother, a colleague and friend. We grieve with those who love him and mourn his loss.
Sometimes, and too often, we find a way to sympathize or commiserate with tragedies. Or is it travesties? I cannot find a word to capture it. Nearly always, we move on with our lives. But not this time. It is time to stand up and be counted. Allowing that each of us must reckon with and respond to this call individually, as members of the Alverno community our call is also a common one; unequivocal in its persistence and demands, and deeply aligned with our mission.
As a Catholic, Franciscan college, deeply committed to the education of women, many both first in their families to attend college and proud members of our communities of color, Alverno must, first and always, embrace the call to justice implied in our core identity; that is, each of us created in the image of God and endowed thereby with essential and equally valuable and unassailable dignity. Not only are we called to recognize and accept this conviction, we must act upon it. No arguments, add-ons, subordinate clauses or equivocations.
As a college with a primary focus on women, we must focus in a special way now on our women of color – students, faculty and staff. They are the mothers, sisters, daughters, colleagues and friends of their slaughtered brothers. They are the ones who must talk to their sons about the world they will face. They need to know in concrete ways that we stand in solidarity with them in both conviction and action.
As a college of the liberal arts espousing Alverno’s eight abilities, our mission is sacred and powerful – we prepare the leaders who will enter and change this world; women and men whom we count on to be vital parts of the solution. We must visit those abilities yet again through the difficult lens of racism, and then act upon our convictions in new ways of teaching, learning and “being.”
We struggle with our own horror and dismay at the persistent evils in our society and reckon uneasily with our own privilege, even as we take heart in the many principled citizens who protest peacefully and step up to restore the health and well-being of their communities. Such feelings are meaningless, however, if we do not put the power of our own action, our advocacy, our vote, our voice into the demand for permanent, systemic change.
For now, I leave you with some encouraging words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes:
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.”
It is my personal pledge to make Alverno College a powerful part of the solution. I hope you will join me.