An Open Letter in Memory of George Floyd
June 3, 2020
Dear Members of the John Bapst Community,
As the United States grapples with how to turn tragedy in the African American community into positive action, it is encouraging to see governors and mayors, police chiefs and police officers join protestors in their anger and determination that George Floyd not have died in vain in Minneapolis. One of the things I most appreciate today are the passionate words of John Bapst students past and present, making their voices heard in emails and on social media—a positive reflection on themselves as individuals and as members of a school community that makes its policy of inclusiveness public.
At John Bapst we have an important responsibility to listen. What does it feel like to be part of a minority? In Maine, one of America’s least diverse states, answering that question means humbly listening to the experiences of anyone who can testify to what it feels like to be on the receiving end of prejudice: blacks, Native Americans, Asians and Asian Americans, Muslims, Jews, and members of the LBGTQ community, to name only some.
America is a proud country founded on galvanizing democratic ideals—founded on those ideals, but still very much learning how to live up to them. History is not for the faint of heart. When we grapple with slavery, lynchings, exclusion acts, internment camps, and discrimination in so many facets of society, we might very well see all that history as a weight on our shoulders that is hard to shake. As a people, let’s shoulder that weight as a responsibility. Americans want justice and opportunity for all, and at this time in our history we see plainly that we have work to do.
We cannot be afraid to speak up. Part of my story is that on April 4, 1968, my family turned on the CBS Evening News to learn that the person who my mom and dad taught me was the greatest living American, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated. I saw my parents’ despair for America. As it happens, we did not know then that the night before he died, Dr. King had delivered a speech in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, a speech I’ve since taught many times to high school students and to me, the greatest speech in American history.
“I don’t know what will happen now,” Dr. King said near the end of his talk. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop….Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”
There is a Promised Land here on earth for good people who work together for a better world. The good people of John Bapst are here to do their part.
Head of School