A few friends have asked me how I feel following the events of the past week. The video that allowed the world to witness the murder of George Floyd just plainly stinks. As a black Jesuit priest, I have undergone a period of paralysis, disbelief, anger, numbness, fear, and despair since watching those painful nine minutes. I feel paralyzed, because I am away from the community that I normally rely upon to process this filth. I am in disbelief that George Floyd’s death is yet another black male body that has been brutalized and murdered right in front of me. I am angry at the banal and vanilla statements put out by Catholic figures including bishops. I would rather they say nothing at all. I have become numb by the sheer number of these events. New to me is the fear I feel for the black children who are students at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep. I fear what this summer has in store for them and other black children of central Brooklyn. I fear that without summer jobs and camps, coupled with over policing, more black youths will have encounters with police. These encounters do not end so well for people who look like me. Finally, I find it difficult to fight off despair. I don’t know how to tell a black or brown child that they are valued in the face of so much in our community which tells them otherwise.
I am tired of measured words and silence. I am angry. At Brooklyn Jesuit Prep we value our students and love them because they are children of God. So, my message to them is not that I love you more. They are not void of love. They are not victims. I am not a victim. My message is more for everyone else. As Toni Morrison put it, “If you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a serious problem.”
As supporters of BJP these events of the past week stink to you as well. Racism is a pungent stench that penetrates the nostrils to those who can smell it. Part of the solution is that we have to change hearts and minds. However, that alone won’t do. We have to also address structures that perpetuate violence, poverty, substandard education, healthcare, and discrimination. That is, in part, what we do together at BJP. Let us be angry and act. Let us tell a black child that we love him/her through our actions and not our words. If you want to march, then march peacefully and get involved. If you want to donate money, do so and get involved. Get to know a student by name. Make your involvement personal as many of you have. Make it personal, so that the next time a black person is killed, you also feel the paralysis, disbelief, anger, numbness, fear, and despair that I feel. Only then will you begin to truly feel the racism in our society, and we are compelled to act to change things together. Let's redouble our efforts to invest in Brooklyn. Let's redouble our efforts to invest in Brooklyn Jesuit Prep.