I am of the age when my experiences appear to have come full circle. I was born in an era where respect for authority was expected. The social norm of the neighborhood that was powerfully impacted by both Church and school, was to accept the boundaries of what was deemed appropriate behavior. One’s behavior impacted on the reputation of the family. The social media of the time was the tales of gossip told by the people who were the eyes and ears of the neighborhood. Injustices, if even recognized, were left to fester. Civil disobedience was known only through the newsreels at the movies. The Hungarian uprising, in the fifties, against the Russians was about a people longing to free from the yoke of communism. That was OK. Things like this didn’t happen at home. We were the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The myth of freedom was given an alternative version as seen in the increased energy being gathered to high-lite injustice by the folks leading the Civil Rights movement. The national disgrace of segregation was center stage. Television raised the people’s consciousness of injustice. Those of us in New York had made accommodations with “de facto” segregation, separation by neighborhoods. But somehow, that was different. Separate, we thought was equal, but not always equal.
Having been exposed to literature and images about the civil rights movement, it changed my outlook. I had friends of color who taught me. The unfairness was undeniable. Bull Connor was evil. Martin Luther King Jr. became for many of us, the grace filled voice from God. King’s embracing of Gandhi’s vision of non-violence as the path to change was about the best in us. As fate would have in my life, I was in Washington on August 28, 1963 and joined over two hundred thousand others for the March on Washington to demand action on addressing injustice and the denials of civil rights for Black America. The numbers of us who were there that day dwindled, but for many of us, it was a call to action. The seeds of my commitment against injustice were planted that day. Never could I have dreamed where God was taking me.
I was introduced to community organizing and voter registration. I joined picket lines protesting George Wallace speaking in nearby Maryland. There was some early anti war protesting. People were beginning to raise their voices. The times they were a changing! My assignment to the faculty of The Monsignor Kelly School, a middle school for academically talented boys from Asian, Black, Hispanic, and White families, put my life on a clear trajectory to do my best to make a difference in the fight against injustice. I participated in anti war rallies. I marched outside the British embassy protesting the injustice in Northern Ireland. My tiny presence at the demonstrations or protests may seem insignificant, but it gave me the strength to let my convictions be known.
My life’s dedication to fight injustice came in 1984 when we founded De La Salle Academy. The school’s mission is to create a cadre of leaders who will be inspired to fight injustice and to stand for what is right and just. As with the founding of George Jackson Academy in 2003, my dream has been partially fulfilled. A difference is being made in the hearts, minds, and souls of the children God has confided to our care. Education is the key to waging the fight for more inclusion and cooperation in helping to be God’s voice to all who will listen. Education also is the grounding in the core values of a lived and loving community that asks nothing but our best. The dream that Doctor King shared on the August afternoon in 1963 has inspired my dream, the De La Salle dream, the George Jackson dream, the American Dream.
I hope and pray that this time of great anxiety and frustration can find its voice in the life of Martin Luther King, Saint La Salle, and all of the other angels and saints among us who bring out the best in each other. Violence has no place in our agenda. The freedom to speak the truth is the end game of the demonstrations. The freedom to act justly is our life mission. My legs and ankles no longer allow me to join in a demonstration. My head and heart are up in the front line with the marchers. It is time!