Story by Jayden Jones, Opinion Editor
Photo courtesy pexels.com
In the days following the death of Aumad Arbery, people across the world started running 2.23 miles on the 23rd of each month in commemoration of Arbery’s birthday–and all the other birthdays he would never celebrate. I started running, too. I didn’t know what else to do with myself. I ran through a park that followed the Platte River, which was still swollen from summer rainstorms. It was golden hour, and everything was framed by a thick sunlight. In my mind, as I imagined Arbery’s face as oxygen was denied him, the truth was framed with a horrific sense of reality: Because of my skin color, my circumstances, nothing in my life had to change with the realization of Arbery’s death. I could continue with my life as though nothing had happened. Arbery didn’t have that luxury. Neither did his family and friends. Neither did any and every Black person in America, and in the world.
This shameful epiphany led to a reflection of all my past instances of silence, where my privilege enabled my passivity. And it was painful. One of the most painful memories wasn’t even a year old. Aquinas gave us MLK day as a full holiday, and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion had planned thought-provoking activities for the student body. There was a march in downtown Grand Rapids. There were discussion panels. I did not attend any of the events. I treated it like a normal day off. I slept in. I went to Meijer. I did my homework. To Arbery, and to every Black person, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
If, at any point, you’ve ever found yourself in my place, I hope you’re reading this. If you found yourself committed and passionate three months ago, but have now found that your resolve has weakened, that daily life has distracted you, I hope you’re reading this. Racism thrives in daily life. In the simple decisions made by the privileged to turn away in indifference or neglect. Ordinary moments matter. Right now, sitting at your laptop, what can you do?
Administration of Aquinas College, we need you. Our Catholic, Dominican tradition is not a shield against criticism, nor is it a vague, unpracticed ideology. By Catholic, drawn from the greek word for “universal,” we are uncompromising in our faithfulness to the inherent dignity of each human person. And by Dominican, we are committed to the constant and thoughtful education of ourselves and those around us. These values carry weight. They deserved to be lived out on a daily basis. As we examine ourselves, tracing the despicable history of racism in our own lives and hearts, we look also to our families, government, and also to our universities. The way we learn, and what we learn about matters.
Can we institute a new curriculum on anti-racism in America? Can we create new classes about the influences of slave narratives on American literature? Can we examine the rhetoric that was used to justify the enslavement of Black people and think about why it was effective, and how that rhetoric is used today? One of the primary ways I sought to remedy my ignorance and both seek forgiveness for and root out any racist tendencies I might have was through education. Because knowledge is power. And to harness that power and turn words into actions, we need the support and resources of an institution committed to an anti-racist education that does not ignore the past, but exposes it. These wounds can’t be covered up anymore. They need to be brought out into the light of classrooms and research projects and thoughtful conversations. They need to heal out in the open.