Class & Race Warfare in our School Systems and Loans

We are in crisis in America. We are so entrenched in our own experience and values that we neglect to heed the wisdom that has served as the unspoken foundation of our very nation: diversity. We fail to capture the diverse experiences possible within this singular country and it divides us. As I looked at the upcoming school loan issues, I hear people condemning those who take out loans. “The parents should tell them not to go to college if they can’t afford it.” “Why aren’t their parents helping them?” “They should have planned better!” “It’s their own fault!”

But is it? Or is this the result of how little we value life in this country (after birth, of course). What if their parents don’t have any experience in these skills? Or they aren’t even there at all? The United States incarceration rates are second in the WORLD (and the number that puts us there is still not capturing all imprisoned adults or any juveniles), leaving many children with absent parents being passed from caregiver to caregiver, or a single parent who is gone all the time working just to try to provide shelter and food.

But rather than acknowledge the tremendous obstacles in place and the gross neglect in caring for and equipping our youth to be healthy and productive citizens, there is condemnation and judgment.  A choice that is certainly more affordable and probably allows those sitting in judgment to sleep better at night. But most of those people don’t know what it means to grow up in poverty and rarely are they the individuals who experienced their family being continuously broken up.

“We have to start to understand that the young people we are working with have nothing of external substance or support. They have dangerous neighborhoods. They have poor places to live. They have little food to eat. They have parents who are on the ropes and barely pay attention to them. The externals with which American education is obsessed will not work in this situation…But these students have one thing that no one can take away from them. They have their souls. And from this day forth in this school, we are going to lift those souls up. We are going to make those souls visible to the young people themselves and to their parents and to the community. We are going to celebrate their souls, and we are going to reground their lives in the power of their souls. And that will require this faculty recovering the power of their own souls, remember that we, too, are soul-driven, soul-animated creatures.” -Principal from Allen School in Dayton, OH

Advertisements

Reflection: Nonviolence and Injustice

I do not have the wisdom or experience to say whether or not the belief that non-violence is the best way to bring about change in the face of injustice is right. What I do know is that, when faced with injustice, the best answer for me personally aligns with that of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi. When we follow what appears to be the natural order of things, violence begets violence, accompanied by a continued escalation until there is hurt on all sides and an effort to reconcile seems nearly impossible. When we instead choose to respond to injustice with love, we effectively prevent ourselves from the escalation of the very brokenness and injustice which was perpetuated against us. This does not mean the injustice continues unaddressed.

As Martin Luther King said in his Noble Peace Prize acceptance speech, “…nonviolence is not sterile passivity but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation.” (King) It is a response to injustice, not a submission to it. It asks for us to be reconciled rather than perpetuate our broken principles through which we operate. In the same speech he said, “If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love…” (King) The effectivity of this approach becomes apparent in the story of Stoney, a white boy who grew up in Alabama during the height of the Civil Rights movement.

His family reflected his community. “And this is Alabama in the late fifties, the heart of Dixie, you know, where the Confederacy and all of the glory of the Confederacy was still a part of the way you were brought up.” (Berman 132) He heard Martin Luther King, Jr. labeled a Communist and enemy of the United Sates. He participated in the celebration of Bull Connor (a fantastic example of injustice and the use of violence) as the epitome of the Southern man. He reflected that when he was young, his beliefs were the beliefs of those around him because you believe in them. Then he went to Birmingham and as they turned the corner, he saw the police letting the dogs bite people who were peacefully singing and marching. He had a different reaction from his compatriots: “and I remember sayin’ to them then, “I don’t care if you are a nigger, you deserve better than to be chewed up by a dog.” I don’t think the other two boys that were with me really saw it that way. I think they saw it as an extension of the rightness of Bull Connor…” (Berman 134)

A few years later he experienced real breakthrough when he went to see Martin Luther King, Jr. at the march in Selma. “Then they get to a point, maybe fifty to a hundred yards away from the state troopers, and they knelt down and started to pray…And when I saw them kneel down to pray, I turned to the guy that was with me and said, “Those people aren’t Communists. Communists don’t believe in God! They wouldn’t kneel down and pray if they were Communists.” (Berman 135) It was the peaceful response of the march that lead him to recognize the incongruity between what he believed and what he witnessed. This response to appeal to God in a moment that promised unjust violence did not reflect a Godless people intent on destroying America. When his grandmother told him later that it was a trick, his belief system began to crack and was eventually replaced by something else. I wonder how differently the story might have gone if, rather than marching and praying, they had responded to police brutality with violence. Would the boys heart have been awakened to the injustice he witnessed? Would he continue to operate in the belief system he’d been given? Would he have gotten involved in the violence?

Martin Luther King also said in his speech that receiving the award, “…is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time, the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.” (King) Nonviolence is not an easy answer, or a quick one. Someday we may learn that it isn’t the best one. But as far as my experience goes, it is the one that holds the most promise for reconciliation in our present and our future.

Works Cited

Berman, Philip. The Search for Meaning. New York: Bellantine Books, 1990. .pdf..

King, Jr., Martin Luther. Noble Prize Acceptance Speech. Oslo: Noble.org, 1964. video.