While my heart is breaking for Ellicott City, it still has not recovered from the painful racism, anti-Semitic, bigoted homophobic vandalism at Glenelg High School last week. We want healing, reconciliation, and social justice. We may not achieve it – but we are all better for the attempt.
When I first read the articles and saw the images at Glenelg, it reminded me of the famous photo of the Little Rock Nine. In both cases, hatred is on broad display – there was no attempt to hide or conceal it. Reading the graffiti – just like looking at the Little Rock Nine picture – made it impossible to ignore.
We think of the stoicism and grace of Elizabeth Eckford as people hurled expletives at her as she attended Central High School in 1957- and then I imagine what must go through the mind of Glenelg Principal Burton and all of the students at whom the hateful vandalism at Glenelg was directed.
Years after this photo was taken, Hazel Bryan, the young woman screaming in the background, apologized to Eckford and reconciliation began. They began public speaking together and developed a friendship. Later, Elizabeth Eckford explained that their friendship broke up because “[Hazel] wanted me to be cured and be over it and for this not to go on anymore. She wanted me to be less uncomfortable so that she wouldn’t feel responsible.” (https://www.npr.org/2011/10/02/140953088/elizabeth-and-hazel-the-legacy-of-little-rock)
I can’t help but think of this as I read both the apology of one of the students and some of the comments on social media.
Apologies are necessary, but they are not sufficient. Choices to demean individuals and destroy property should be punished through appropriate legal means. Reconciliation can only begin when the apologies are about helping the victims heal, not making the perpetrator feel less culpable.
We must begin at younger ages to build community, bridge gaps, tear down community barriers and build civics, social justice, acceptance, and compassion. We must teach the value of all people. We must build cultural competence. We need all our schools to layer lessons on social-emotional health and what it does to a person when they are bullied or demeaned. So much good work has been done by so many – but we have so much work still to do.
As a candidate for the Board of Education, I commit to treating hatred, harassment, and discrimination with the seriousness it requires. The graffiti – like the Little Rock Nine picture – only illuminates attitudes that already exist and are prevalent within our community. We cannot deceive ourselves that this is simply a small isolated event – and that ‘everything else is fine.’ We know in our hearts that is not the case.
We all have much work to do.