An Open Letter to the District Seven Community
June 25, 2015
From Superintendent, Dr. Russell W. Booker
Like every South Carolinian grieving the tragedy in Charleston, my heart is heavy for the nine families whose lives have been turned upside down by senseless violence and hatred. Like every American stunned by yet another act of violence in our own backyard, my heart is heavy for a nation that is holding its breath for the fear of a next time. And, like parents all over the world, I am struggling with how best to address the hard questions my children are asking about humanity.
As an educator, I believe it is incumbent upon us to use this time to talk with our children and to engage them in honest conversation about the role we play in what's next for our nation. In our state, in our cities and in our neighborhoods, history is in the making. Our future, our wellbeing and our sense of community depend on the conversations we are having now and the connections we are nurturing. As a father of two boys and as a superintendent serving more than 7,000 students, I wonder how this is affecting our children. The senseless murders that took place on June 17 have interrupted what is generally a tranquil time for our families - a time for summer fun, rest and recharging. How will we help our children process this tragedy? How do we help them make sense of the needed conversations we are having in our state and across the nation surrounding race? We must embrace this opportunity to encourage understanding.
I am compelled to pen this letter because I don't want this particular moment in time to pass us by, or for us to fail to remember our most precious citizens. What lessons, if our 750,000 students across South Carolina were in class today, would we be sharing? There are many teachable moments now, and there will be many more in the days, months and years ahead. Among the lessons I am sharing with my children are these:
Lesson #1 - A Life Well-Lived
As a father, the first thing I pointed out to my two sons was the caliber of life that the nine men and women in Charleston lived. It was evident and continues to be evident that each individual lived a life steeped in deep spiritual and moral convictions. Secondly, their lives are reflected in the loved ones they left behind. So, to our children, Lesson #1 - How you live your life matters. It not only matters in life, but it can matter in death.
Lesson #2 - Forgiveness is Powerful
As I watched the family members of the victims express their hurt, my heart ached. I was humbled to witness their forgiveness of the perpetrator. I have been taught to forgive my whole life, but I could not fathom my faith being put to the test like it was for these families. They passed the test. We can, too. Forgiveness is powerful. It is the only way to free ourselves of the things that hold us back. Who do we need to forgive, so that we can focus on healing and moving forward? The display of forgiveness that we have seen in Charleston has ignited the hearts and minds of millions of people across this state and nation to begin discussions of restoration and reconciliation.
Lesson #3 - Hope Matters
South Carolina's motto is Dum Spiro Spero - "While I breathe, I hope." It has been said this crime was conceived to instigate a race war. Through the meaningful lives the victims lived, the forgiving actions of their families, the reaction of our Charleston family and the courageous leaders who are taking a stand, there is an air of hopefulness in South Carolina that I have not witnessed before. Hope is powerful. Without it, life can be difficult to live. Without hope, it is impossible to see the future for what it can be. Many of us call this Faith. A race war was not incited. To the contrary, we have been filled with a great sense of hope and faith as we have witnessed individuals of all races coming together in the wake of this crisis.
Lesson #4 - Mean What You Say - Our Children Are Watching
This final lesson is not meant for our children, but rather for each of us - the adults of South Carolina. The greatest lessons to be learned have yet to be taught. We have an opportunity to teach our children the power of forgiveness, hopefulness and the value of a life well-lived. We also have the opportunity to teach our children that our differences should serve to bring us together and not to divide us. Racism is a disease. Some say it is like a cancer that spreads. At times, it can't be seen but it is there. At times it can go into remission, and for a moment subside. I believe it can be eradicated (Dum Spiro Spero).
South Carolina is in a position to lead. Let's be courageous. Let's change the narrative. Let's show these United States of America what it means to be united. Most importantly, let's give future generations something to build upon as we move our state forward. We are beginning to witness firsthand the importance of affirming others, of expressing genuine empathy and the power of forgiveness. Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop, said, "My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours." I believe this to be true.
We are witnessing history in our state. I am hopeful that my future grandchildren, my great grandchildren and my sons will take pride in this moment in South Carolina's history. We have an opportunity to make this happen.
As we continue to lift up the nine families in Charleston and the congregation of Emanuel AME, I wish for each of you a restful, productive, and memorable remaining break. Enjoy this time with your loved ones, and pray for South Carolina.
Russell W. Booker