Note: I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now. And with everything that happened in Charleston last week I, like many of you, have a heavy heart and are trying to figure out how to respond. And I think we respond in a few ways:

1. We mourn the loss of life, we honor the lives and impact of those taken from us. We root our anger first and foremost in the sadness it is born from.

2. We ask tough questions and face tough realities. We ask why Americans are so reluctant to call mass shootings by white shooters what they are- terrorist acts.. Let’s call it what it is because to do anything else, to me, is a form of racism in itself. We demand the Confederate Flag be removed. We say to hell with “politics” and have people on both sides of the aisle address why events like this seem to happen again and again in our great country, and very rarely elsewhere in other advanced nations.

3. We honor those who have made and continue to fight for a more just and loving society. And so in a way, my “fuck you” to the racist terrorist attack of last week is to spend some time reflecting on the words of a man I admire greatly: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And so my “fuck you” isn’t directed toward the 21 year old who has confessed to these crimes. It’s to what these crimes stand for. It’s a rejection that racism will always haunt us and that mass shootings are the new norm in America.

I don’t propose this will somehow end racism or bring back the lives lost in Charleston. But it is one small way to light a candle, stare very intentionally into the eyes of that terrorist and the evil act of racism he committed, and as one strong community say “Your hate will not win. Our love will prevail.” Dr. King was fighting this battle over 50 years ago. Progress has been made and for that we celebrate. And yet, we’re still called into the trenches still today. More than ever in fact. 

I will never forget my first visit to the city, sitting on the steps of the Lincoln monument, feet away from where Dr. King shared his famous dream with our nation. Later I would walk through the Vietnam Memorial, curious what names are tattooed on the heart of my father, a Vietnam Vet injured in the war. I watched one Veteran place a memento at a section of the wall, his shaky hand retracing a name on the wall as he whispered to whoever it was he had come to see. In a nation riddled with imperfection, a glimpse of who we should still strive to be reveals itself in the address from Lincoln, the prayers of Vets and in recent years, the quotes of Dr. King.

The centerpiece of the MLK monument. To the left and the right are walls full of his beautiful thoughts, reflections, and challenges to a nation that needs to hear these words as much today as back then.

The MLK Memorial is a must visit for anyone who values social justice or anyone fond of aspirational poetry. The last two visits I have been with my students from Loyola Marymount University.

The latest group for the Ignatian Solidarity Network Teach-In I joined in D.C. in November 2014

They’re a lively group, and they keep me at once inspired about the future of our nation and curious about our past. My visit last November we wandered over the Martin Luther King Memorial in the dead (and cold) of night, and reflected on wise words from a great leader. There are a lot of great quotes and moments for reflection at this beautiful monument, but these really stand out to me:

As someone who has worked his entire career in social justice, this quote reminds me I’m not alone, and results, elusive as they may seem, are still worth our pursuit.

How easy it would be to say “well, my immediate world is fine, thus I need not ask the tough questions about injustice, systemic racism, and so much more.” But Dr. King reminds us we must constantly call injustice for what it is.

When fighting for social justice, it’s tempting to get stuck in anger and anger alone. I see it a lot in the world I work in, but I also know it to be complete. We’re angry because we love, and we love because we believe in a goodness all people deserve access to, and it angers and hurts us when that is not achieved. But we must always remember it is our love not our hate that drives us forward, otherwise we lose sight about what it is that matters.

It was hard to capture this one without a glare (so excuse the weird angle), but I think it speaks for itself.

Let’s not ignore Charleston. Let’s not lament the lives lost and “move on” as quick as possible. Let’s speak truth to power and root ourselves in the love that motivates so many to speak out against injustice and celebrate pluralism.

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