March 2018

Posted: March 19, 2018

Dear Parents,

Today marked the beginning of our Justice Summit Week. As I stepped onto campus this morning, I was immediately grateful to my colleagues in the visual and performing arts department for the wonderful work that they have done in providing us with a striking visual reminder of our focus this week on Understanding Race in the 21st Century.

Senior Brentley Johnson ’18 has put on display 21 portraits on the interior and exterior of Sobrato. Brentley reached out to all his peers to see if they would be interested in being photographed, and more than 60 students responded. The resulting installation, entitled “This is Us”, showcases some of the rich diversity here at Bellarmine. It really is a powerful display. Junior Nathan Hayes’ installation, which is on the 2nd floor of Lokey, is called “Our Story”. Nathan asked the ten students who are his subjects to write something about their race and identity. As I was going to and leaving my second period class this morning, it was wonderful to see so many students reading with great interest what their peers had written. It was an important, powerful reminder that we all have a story to tell, and I’m grateful to these two students and Ms. Crockett, who has worked with them to help them tell these stories.

We began the Summit Week officially this morning with a keynote talk from Fr. Matt Carnes, S.J., who is a Professor at Georgetown University. I know many of you will be coming to Liccardo tonight to hear Fr. Carnes’ talk, and you are in for a powerful experience. Fr. Carnes spoke of his experiences as a member of the Georgetown University Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation, which has been grappling with the University’s history of slave owning as a means of staying financially solvent into the 19th century. Professor Carnes began his talk by sharing with us that as a “California kid”, he did not see the history of slavery as his own or particularly impacting him, but how this experience has changed his perception. As a result, he invited all of us to consider that it’s important to wrestle with our nation’s history.

In addition to making recommendations about the re-naming of two buildings on campus, the working group also sought to consider how the university might hope to begin a process of reconciliation. Accordingly, this past April, the University invited the descendants of the 272 men, women, and children who were sold as slaves in 1838 to come to Georgetown so that the school, and the society of Jesus, could formally apologize, and ask for forgiveness – knowing that they weren’t owed that debt, but believing it was the right thing to do. The university is also seeking more comprehensive ways in which it might seek to make some sort of amends for its sinful past, including being forthright about telling its story, viewing these descendants as they would “legacy” applicants to the school, and providing the resources of its law and medical schools to help redress some of the legacy of slavery and racism that persists into the modern day.

Fr. Carnes also sought to make the work of Georgetown relevant for us here at Bellarmine. He encouraged us to consider how we might expand our own sense of community, so that we can reflect upon who we are moving around, but not really seeing. He encouraged us to use our own resources to address the inequalities of today, as we are starting with this week’s summit. And he implored us to build on personal relationships as the best way to combat inequality.

Perhaps one of the most striking examples in this whole situation for me personally was how it all got started in the first place. Due to housing challenges on campus, the university needed to put into use an older, largely forgotten building that no one really knew even had a name, much less who the person it was named for was. But the President of the University, John DeGioia, knew that it was named for the man who had saved the school financially, but that he had done so by selling human beings into slavery. Instead of quietly changing the name or trying to hide the history, DeGioia took the issue on, considering how to deal with the name of this and another building, and how to reconcile with the descendants of these slaves who were sold.

What that says to me, and I hope to all our students, is that we need to recognize when we have made mistakes, admit those mistakes to those we have wronged, and seek their forgiveness. It’s hard work to do, but it strikes me as the best chance we have to seek reconciliation, peace, and forgiveness. What an appropriate message for me to hear this Lenten season, and I hope it will be for you as well.

I encourage you to seek opportunities to ask your son in a special way this week about what he is hearing in the talks, breakout sessions, and prayer service that are part of our activities through Thursday.


Chris Meyercord ‘88

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