Over the first few days of spring vacation, History Chair Emily Pressman, Dean of Teaching and Learning Elizabeth Roach, and I traveled with seven remarkable St. Andrew’s seniors to Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, Alabama to reflect on the history of the Civil Rights movement in America and to study the work of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative. Everywhere we traveled, we found sites, markers, museums, and memorials documenting the history of racism and white supremacy ideology and violence.
One of the most emotional visits we made took place in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham where four black girls died on September 15, 1963 following a bomb explosion directed by members of the KKK.
Carol Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), Addie Mae Collins (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14), we learned last week, were in the church basement and heading up the stairs for a Sunday service when the bomb exploded. These murders, part of a vast terrorist conspiracy designed to defeat the movement of civil rights in the South, awakened America to the reality of racism, segregation, and intolerance. For each of us, the human cost of that long overdue enlightenment remained too painful to contemplate.
From Birmingham, to Charleston, to Pittsburgh and today to New Zealand, we have witnessed acts of senseless and ferocious violence perpetrated by the lingering attraction of intolerance and hatred. We feel such violations of the human spirit most dramatically when such atrocities occur in schools or places of worship. We expect the sanctity of childhood and the peace and grace of worship settings to protect children and citizens from harm.
This morning, St. Andrew’s joins communities across the world in mourning the victims of the shootings that took place during the period before Friday Prayer in the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Mosque. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that New Zealand was “targeted because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it.” As I write this piece, we know that at least 49 people died during the shootings. Bilal Morsi expresses best the sentiments we feel today: “As a Muslim, it breaks my heart to see instances of Islamophobia prevail around the world…Learn about Islam, a religion full of hope and love...Let’s honor the victims of violence in New Zealand by learning about the stories of the people that society deems to be ‘others’.”
This morning, the congregation at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the congregation at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the congregation at the Emmanuel Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina understand the grief, despair, and pain of this day. May we join them and others across the world in witnessing and enacting the power of love, acceptance, reconciliation, and peace. Pray for and honor the victims and their families. Embrace and unite the diverse faith traditions in our world.
- Headmaster News