Last weekend, my youngest daughter, along with my wife and I, traveled out to Pittsburgh to visit my oldest daughter for the University of Pittsburgh Family Weekend. I am sure that when you just read the school she attends, you immediately inferred as to what this note may entail and you would be correct.
Ten minutes away from our hotel, a massacre at The Tree of Life Synagogue was occurring, with 11 dead and six wounded by a man who it seems has hatred towards the Jewish people – any and all Jewish people. Earlier in the week in Kentucky, two black senior citizens were shot and killed, one in front of his grandchild, for no other reason than because they were black, and in the wrong place after a man attempted to gain access to a church where it is assumed he was looking to cause even more havoc and death. Also, in the same week, pipe bombs were delivered to prominent political leaders and activists (of
the same political party) threatening their lives.
Hate does not have ethnicity, race, color or gender. It does not have form other than what we give it. It does not discriminate or discern and it makes no decisions or decrees. Yet, it seems to live and breathe throughout our world altering its appearance to serve each new master. This week, like so many other weeks before, it appeared on the doorsteps of innocence.
Yes, I should be thankful that neither my daughter, nor anyone that I know or that she knows was involved in the murderous attacks or impacted by these events. Not “impacted” I wrote??? Does “not impacted” mean that I did not lose a loved one? Does it mean that I myself was not shot and killed? Have we come to a place in society where if it did not happen to me, that my reaction of feeling sad for a brief moment, donating a few dollars to victims’ families and then moving on, is the acceptable approach?
At what point does a school system, a community, a people create the necessary change to harness hatred.
When I was a teacher in South Brunswick in the mid-1990s, we taught of genocide and we used a poem to help teach young minds of the harms of by standing:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
By Martin Niemöller, a German pastor
You can substitute in any group that you feel fits, by removing “Jews” and inserting “African Americans” or by swapping “socialists” for “Muslims”. It would not matter, as the lesson which we seem to continue to forget, is that we are absolutely impacted, each of us, any time and every time hate takes the lives of a group of people for nothing more than the color of their skin, the place in which they worship, or the gender to which one identifies. Maybe what is wrong is that we do not remember or maybe we simply find it easier to choose to forget.
Last year we “Walked with Parkland” and years before Sandy Hook and years before that Columbine. We can point to a Las Vegas concert or to Kentucky – outside a church. What we can’t do is go about these events time after time wiping the sweat off our brow saying, “That won’t happen here in South Brunswick because we are not Trade Unionists or Socialists.”
I am asking for a call to action by our community. In our School District Goals set forth at the October Board of Education meeting, we pointed to the issue of equity and talked about forming a diverse and comprehensive committee devoted to issues of equity. What better place to start than by analyzing who we are as a community and what defines us, unites us and brings us together as one South Brunswick. I cannot attest to having the answers to fixing what is broken in our society, but we can work to make sure that the children and the families of South Brunswick learn to live respecting each other’s differences and
embracing the diversity of our great community. We can band together to ensure that “hate” does not grow within our borders.
I will be hosting a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. in the Crossroads South auditorium to share more about our hopes and dreams for equity and what it means to our school district and hopefully to our community. I hope you will be able to attend.
We can educate the minds of our youth with math and science and, of course, we will continue to do so, but we cannot journey down this path without first and foremost teaching of humanity. It starts in the home and in tandem, we can make the change that our world needs, at least one South Brunswick child at a time.
Imagine if every child were able to walk into any building at any time without fear of being shot and killed. What are you willing to do to make this a reality?
Superintendent of Schools
South Brunswick School District