Moving Forward after Charlottesville

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”— George Santayana

For my entire life, I’ve assumed things like slavery, the Holocaust, and fascism were mistakes of our collective past. That, as a society, these were evils that we were trying to move on from. I made sense of groups like the Ku Klux Klan by attributing their beliefs to a lack of education and understanding. I thought someone who learned about the evils of slavery and the Holocaust could not actively work to promote such bigotry. More so, I thought that even if it was possible for someone to truly desire for days past, that these types of people were few and far between. I certainly was not as naïve to believe that we were living in a “post-racial” society, or that the color of one’s skin didn’t dramatically impact their outcomes. I just assumed that most people thought it was wrong, and folks like myself were organizing to change that reality.

Then, innocent black and brown men, women, and children were and continue to be murdered by the hands of police officers without consequence. Then, Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States. And then, on August 12, 2017, the Ku Klux Klan marched in Charlottesville, VA. That’s when I realized that the America I was living in looked more like the America of my textbooks than the “post-racial” pipedream promulgated by many people today.

After the act of domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, I was angry. I was angry that I was living in a world where the Klan can march in broad daylight and the president of the country defends them. I was angry that my son was alive during a time when white radicals picked up torches to incite terror when my grandparents thought they’d be the last ones to endure that kind of fear. But then I was drawn to a quote from a childhood icon and the anger subsided. Mister Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, described a time when he was young and got scared by the things happening in the news. His mother told him “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping”.

I began to look for these “helpers”. I found solace in the reactions of many white Americans, who felt they could no longer be silent. The surge of grassroots-level organizing means that ordinary citizens are beginning to recognize their power to change our nation. In order to move past Charlottesville, we will need to continue to empower citizens and implore them to fight for change. I was proud that my Mayor is willing to call a spade a spade and denounce domestic terrorism, even when our president can’t. But most of all, I found inspiration in my colleagues and the young people I work with. I looked in the eyes of these young people and I did not see people who were afraid, but rather people who were still determined to change the world. Their steadfast conviction to be the “helpers” in this situation made me grateful to be on this journey with them. They gave me hope that while my son may have been born into a world where white supremacists are given platforms, that his children’s generation might be the one that makes hatred a thing of the past.

Malcolm X once said, “the future belongs to those who prepare for it today”. As we organize against forces of hate, we must remember that each day is a new opportunity to create a future that we’re proud of.My heart hurts for the state of our country, but it’s during hard times that people find out what they’re made of. And the “helpers” have a much stronger mettle than the cowards who marched in Virginia.