1 June 2020
“Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet
come to the place for which our people sighed?”
- "Lift Every Voice and Sing" Hymn
Dear Cathedral School Community:
When I was in the fifth grade, I invited a friend over to my house to shoot baskets. The afternoon wore on, and eventually, my mother opened the back door to call me in for supper. She invited my friend to stay and eat with us. It was obvious, though, that the invitation made him feel uncomfortable. When I probed, he let me know that he had never been inside a white person’s house before.
This was South Carolina in the early 1980’s, and, maybe, I should not have been surprised by his reticence. In point of fact, I was bewildered. It was impossible for me to understand how this could be true. It was only after discussing circumstances with my parents that evening that I began to comprehend, at least in some small way, the larger forces that kept black children confined to their own neighborhoods. As I grew older, I would learn, as we all know, that those forces could produce far more fatal outcomes.
Perhaps I would like to hope that circumstances have changed, that the inevitable course of human and social evolution would ensure that, both individually and collectively, we would naturally escape the shackles of racism, bigotry, and hate that have tortured our country and killed our sisters and brothers. And then, another African American man is killed by a white police officer, and we are reminded that those forces are very much alive. Mr. George Floyd’s death, and countless others like it, expose the sophistry of hope as a response to this, our nation’s greatest threat.
It is so easy for us to express our indignation every time another black person is killed. “How can this happen?” we cry and decry in Tweets, in Facebook posts, and in letters from well-intended heads of school. How quickly we move on to more convenient matters.
There is no magic wand. This is not an issue that vanishes with new laws and new lawmakers (though both are essential). This is an issue that requires each and every one of us to do something rather than, merely, to say something. As I stated in a letter
earlier in the year, schools bear responsibilities, and so, too, do we as individuals. We have responsibilities to educate and inform, and in doing so, we work to ensure that our children are not the ones kneeling on the necks of others, and better yet, are the ones fighting against those who do.
Thankfully, my friend overcame his reluctance that afternoon and become a more frequent visitor to our house. As important were the meals that I would eventually share with his family. We learn best through experience and by growing to appreciate the experiences of others. Yet, we continue to deny our children and ourselves this most essential education. When do we turn rhetoric into reality?
Cathedral boys, as you know, adore James Weldon Johnson’s hymn, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." It is often referred to as the African-American National Anthem. The hymn, published in 1900, is one of anticipation; it envisions a nation that has moved beyond the plague of racism. The second verse, however, poses a pivotal question, “Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet, come to the place for which our people sighed?” Alas, we have not yet reached that place. The stony road is ours to tread.
Very truly yours,
PS- Bishop Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the National Episcopal Church, delivered a powerful sermon
yesterday that is worthy of your time. Elizabeth and I watched it with our sons yesterday.