Moved by JFK Middle School Principal Desmond Caldwell’s courageous letter to the school community, I reflected on what message I should offer the 2022 Peacemaker Awardees on Wednesday, May 18.
Here’s what I wrote:
Greetings 2022 PEACEMAKERS, family, friends, and amazing community.
What an honor it is to join you this evening.
Thank you to Traprock Peace Center and the Interfaith Council for continuing to lift up and celebrate young people whose courage and strong contributions to conflict resolution, social justice, and environmental protection give us all hope.
To the young people being honored tonight, your work and your conviction inspire us. You make us proud.
May tonight’s recognition be like a constant wind at your back, helping you leap boldly forward. Because we need you. We need peacemakers.
Oh my friends, we’re in a world of upheaval. I wish so much that we could celebrate this league of peacemakers without dwelling in the very present, painful realities facing us.
But we must.
We must grapple with the continued racist and anti-Semitic incidences throughout our region.
We must contend with the fear associated with the potential loss of reproductive rights.
We must say Ukraine. And reflect together on the devastation of war.
We must speak about the terrorism in Buffalo. Buffalo. Buffalo, New York – and in the same weekend, tragedies in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Laguna Woods, California.
The murders in Buffalo were steeped in anti-Black white supremacist hatred so corrupt and vile it’s only human for us to wish – to pray – that such violence is unique to that one moment in time.
But, Friends, we know that is not the case.
We know that white supremacist organizing is on the rise. It’s wedged into mainstream political rhetoric and spewed by pundits. It’s all over the internet.
White supremacy and racism are steeped in fear. They foster division – an aching separation – which then breeds violence that is both heinous and terrifying.
In your short and precious lives you have likely lost track of the numbers of times that Black people, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Latinos, immigrants, folks in the LGBTQ community, people who are Jewish or Muslim, people who are differently abled, poor people, and more have been targeted, mocked, terrorized, and murdered.
I’m sorry that you’ve had to face these epic human failures and failings. I’m sorry for my own 8th and 9th grade children who return home from school on too many days with heavy hearts and countless questions. And fear.
But here’s what I know to be true: The only thing in the world more powerful than acute injustice, than this violence and racist hate, are peacemakers, like you. The next generation is rising so beautifully and purposefully from the devastation of COVID, and amid such strife, that on evenings like this, we must pause to cheer you on knowing that you are destined to lead us toward a better tomorrow. The next generation – you – so sophisticated in your understanding of gender. Of sexuality. Of ethnicity and race. Of religion. Of ability. Of class privilege and poverty. Of power. Of democracy. Of humanity.
You are more powerful than hate.
You’re powerful in collective action and organizing – where you might join a campaign, attend a rally or legislative visit, knock on doors, make calls, send emails.
You’re powerful individually – where you might use your skills and your know-how to disrupt the approach of a bully or speak back to a racist slur. To write a letter to the editor or talk with a friend or roommate. When you let your big brains rip at school or at work. When you’ll wield your greatest democratic strength – your vote.
You’re powerful in opposition to racist hate and to violence of all kinds.
And you’re powerful when you embrace exquisite diversity and the inherent, rock-solid worth of each person. When you embrace conflict resolution and transformation over conflict. When you embrace and care for fellow community members. When you embrace the need to care for our environment. When you embrace a future free of the kind of pain and fear we’re called to grapple with today.
Never underestimate the power you hold and the world’s dire need for you to use it.
I’m honored to be the state senator working for (most of) you and your families.
I wanted this job because I believe in representative government. I believe that it can and should work in the best interests of everyone. It doesn’t always. But it can. And it should. And the ONLY force powerful enough to move government to act to protect human and civil rights, to further racial and social justice, to steward our environment and build a future worthy of all of us, is YOU.
You can seize this moment. As we approach a precipice, you can move government at the local, state, and national level to act with the kind of determined care we need by holding people like me accountable AND by coming forward powerfully to LEAD.
In closing, let me be someone in your life who asks you to run for office someday, to join an issue or political campaign, to organize with friends and classmates and coworkers, to add your needed voice to advocacy groups, to use your power and to use it for good. We need leaders to be thoughtful arbiters of justice. We need peacemakers in the lead.
And let me make a promise to you tonight as a white person with unearned privilege: I will do more to be worthy of your generation. I will fight harder, buoyed by your example and the urgency of this moment.
Because we need you.