I first learned of Mr. George Floyd on Tuesday evening when I came home from out of town and watched the video on the 10 p.m. news. What is there left to say to denounce such an abuse of power? As we learn more about the beautiful gifts generously given during his life, his completely unnecessary death in police hands, we are reminded of the reality that this is one more ugly illustration of centuries of systemic racism, and an individual’s choice to act racist.
I am devastated. The video is a painful reminder that while human beings hold great capacity to love, there is also capacity for cruelty. The subsequent looting and vandalism have created additional tension and position the reality of the situation more deeply in the lives of those who live in these areas. The fact that we are experiencing violence and its aftermath, increased racism, and a pandemic that has now taken the lives of 100,000 of our friends, neighbors, and family make this a heavy burden to bear. The events of the last few days have been difficult. The wounds are deep. The anger is raw and real.
We use a thin veneer of civility in Minnesota to shield our eyes from the challenges faced daily by people of color and indigenous communities. It hides the ugly numbers we all know about, the racial disparities we choose to live with whether in our public safety and justice systems, access to health care, early childhood education, affordable housing, wages, promotions, higher education, to name just a few. And the gaps are not little ones; they are big ones that can literally alter the course of one’s life.
Biased and privileged systems, grown over time and deeply embedded in our society, ultimately produced what happened to Mr. Floyd, and shattered what is left of any veneer that shields some of us from the ugly truths of racism. It makes us distinctly aware of our own complicity in knowing how we benefit from unearned privilege and navigating spaces in which people of color and indigenous communities are actively being denied fundamental safety and justice.
It is at times such as these that our faith becomes most important. It is in times such as these that we most feel the need to answer the clarion call for justice that is foundational to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJs) and to St. Catherine University. (Read the statement the CSJs released yesterday.)
So what can we do as individuals?
Take care of yourself. We are bombarded with images of violence. Sometimes it is helpful to take a break, whether it be a break from social media and the 24-hour news cycle or simply standing outside for a few minutes to feel the warmth of the sun on our face. This might mean taking a walk, calling up a friend or family member, or seeking help from a professional. If you are a student, the Counseling Center is open to provide support and may be reached at 651-690-6805 or email@example.com. We also have crisis and after-hours phone support available for you. If you are a staff or faculty member, you may reach out to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at (800) 538-3543 for confidential referrals.
Check in on others. Many people are feeling anger, fear, and frustration, and because of social distancing, feel left alone. Many of us who are called to work for social justice feel overwhelmed and helpless. Most of us do not have answers, but we all can offer a listening ear. It is often the little things that mean the most.
Avoid spreading misinformation. There is no shortage of available information about all of the events that have taken place and continue to evolve. Some of the information is valid and very helpful. Other information is a sensationalized version of the truth or not true at all. It is important that we remember this before we take information to heart or share it with others.
Remain involved. Involvement may look different from one person to the next. For some it is being part of a letter writing campaign to reach out to elected officials. For others, it may mean contacting a local nonprofit organization to see what their needs are at this time or even correcting a friend or family member who is spreading misinformation. Commit to learning more about and standing in solidarity with the people and communities that are most impacted by current events. No matter how you do it, no effort is too big or too small to be an action for change.
Reflection. Our value calls us to contemplate all life experiences and examine the mystery of human purpose. That also means that we continually assess our own racism and commit again to ensuring St. Catherine University is continually working to drive inclusive excellence into everything we do. While I count the many areas in which we have made progress, there is always more to be done. Always.
Our hearts are broken. We do not have words to express the fear, pain, and anger that leave us feeling emotionally raw. We must not allow the destructive actions of individuals’ protests to diminish or overshadow the peaceful protesters who call for justice for George Floyd and his family. We must remember that racism is real and affects all members of our community. We must do all that we can to end the racism that has gotten us to this point in our history.
The fight for justice always begins with us.
ReBecca Koenig Roloff ’76