Dear Brothers and Companions of Blessed Edmund Rice,
A recent news article by Tim Fernholz began:
In the United States, the fight against coronavirus has not stopped Black people from dying unjustly. On May 25th, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, begging for his life with a police officer’s knee on his neck. On March 13th, EMT Breonna Taylor was shot to death by police officers who burst into the wrong apartment. In February, jogger Ahmaud Arbery was killed by two vigilantes.
In September of 2019, less than one year ago, I wrote the following to all in our North American Edmund Rice Network:
My friends and colleagues, I believe that as Edmund Rice educators, we are called to respond to the injustices that surround us. Our students have an inalienable right to live in a world that promotes healing and reconciliation, rather than hatred and division. That recognizes the dignity of each person, regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, etc., rather than demonizing them for being people of color.
As Edmund Rice Christian Brother schools, let us lead the way in teaching our students that God’s unconditional love knows no boundaries, discriminates against no person, welcomes all peoples, respects all cultures, embraces all human life and embodies all creation.
Unfortunately, little has changed in our society in the past year. Senseless acts of violence against people of color continue to take place in cities and towns across America. We have reached a boiling point. We have reached a point where it is time to stand up and be heard, to advocate with and for our fellow Americans of color, to stand in solidarity with our Black and Brown brothers and sisters, and to take action in living up to the Essential Elements of an Edmund Rice Christian Brother Education.
Essential Element # 3 calls on us “to prepare students to work towards the creation of a just society.” And Essential Element # 5 calls on us “to promote respect for each individual as created in the image and likeness of God.”
Our schools have a long history of serving students from a variety of cultures and races; including, Black, White, Latino, Asian, etc. I’d like briefly to share with you the story of a now middle-aged man I taught in Miami more than thirty years ago.
Iterny Joseph is a Haitian man who came to the United States in 1980 and was enrolled in St. Mary’s Cathedral Grammar School. When it came time for high school, Iterny’s family was not in a position to pay full tuition for him to attend Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame (ACND), even though he lived in the slum adjacent to the school’s football field in the Little Haiti section of Miami. To assist students like Iterny, we established a summer work program to help provide the funding that would allow young Haitian men to remain at ACND.
Iterny worked in this program for the four years he was at ACND, and he even came back for two summers following his graduation in 1991. Iterny was a leader at ACND. He got good grades, volunteered at a homeless shelter in downtown Miami, served as a student retreat leader and received all conference honors as a stalwart basketball player. These attributes and many others helped him to earn a grant-in-aid scholarship to attend Goucher College in Baltimore, MD where he earned a BS Degree in Elementary School Education while playing four years of Division III basketball.
Upon his graduation from Goucher, Iterny made the decision to remain in Baltimore where he began a teaching and administrative career in the Baltimore County Public School system. He went on to earn an MA in School Leadership and Administration at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. Today, he teaches in a program for students learning English as a Second Language, and he serves as a mentor to young Black men by encouraging them to make good decisions in life. In July, Iterny and his wife Jill will celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary with their two children, a seventeen year old girl and a fourteen year old boy.
Last week, Iterny shared with me that as a Black man in America, he fears for his son’s future. What will happen, he asked, if his son were to be confronted by a law enforcement agent while minding his own business? Because of this, Iterny has taught his son to always respond to those in authority with respect, regardless of the situation, and to always be mindful of being a Black youth in a country that does not always treat Black youth with respect and dignity.
Iterny is one of our success stories. There are many others like him who escaped the slums of Little Haiti. There are others who did not. Iterny is but one example of how an Edmund Rice Christian Brother education can help to mold the character of a young man of color. I share this story of Iterny with you because it helps me to put a face on the issue of racism in America. We all know people of color like Iterny and his son who simply because they are Black get looked at by far too many people with skepticism and disdain and with prejudice and bigotry. This is not the America of which the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed, nor is it the America for which he gave his life.
Nearly sixty years ago, in addressing what he called the rising tide of racial consciousness, Dr. King wrote these poignant words that are as true today in 2020 as they were in December 1960:
The great challenge facing the nation today is to solve this pressing problem and bring into full realization the ideals and dreams of our democracy. How we deal with this crucial situation will determine our political health as a nation and our prestige as a leader in the free world. The price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro is the price of its own destruction. The hour is late; the clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now! It is a trite yet urgently true observation that if America is to remain a first-class nation, it cannot have second-class citizens.
Dr. King continued:
The racial issue that we confront in America is not a sectional but a national problem. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Therefore, no American can afford to be apathetic about the problem of racial injustice. It is a problem that meets every man at his front door.
My Brothers, friends and colleagues, there can be no doubt that during this past week, the continuing issue of racial discrimination in America is at the front door of every Christian Brother school in the United States. What we do now and how we respond to these events will speak to our character and our resolve to stand in solidarity with people of color.
Today is the Solemnity of Pentecost. It is the birthday of our one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church when we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon all God’s people.
Today, I am calling on all Edmund Rice Christian Brother schools in the United States to intensify efforts at promoting racial justice, at condemning racial injustice and at advocating for a just society that respects the innate dignity of all God’s children, especially people of color.
Furthermore, I am announcing that I have asked our Province Advocacy Coordinator, Mr. Sean D’Alfonso, to collaborate with our Office of Educational Services to establish a coalition of Edmund Rice Network colleagues in creating a series of educational lessons for use in our schools that will provide our students with both an historical and a present-day perspective on matters of race in America. It is my hope that these lessons will include real life experiences that will speak to our students about their role in creating a more just society than presently exists.
Those schools that already have programs in place are asked to please share them with Sean D’Alfonso (email@example.com) to help guide and instruct the development of this course of action by our Edmund Rice Christian Brothers North America Province.
Today, we prayed these words with the universal Church: “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” Let us join this Pentecost prayer with the words of Dr. King in a 1959 address he gave to students at a youth march for integrated schools:
Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.
Let us all go forth to create a better America, as we pray for the soul of our nation, for justice for people of color, for peace in our cities and towns and for the renewal of the face of our earth.
Bro. Kevin M. Griffith, CFC
Edmund Rice Christian Brothers North America, Province Leader