I slung my green book bag over my shoulder and walked to class. I’d slept fitfully. Waking up before the alarm, my mind tried to make sense of the events of the past 48 hours. Ever since I’d taken on this Social Work class, something inside me felt different.
There were already a few students there, unpacking their bags or listening to music, white headphones dangling from their ears. I pulled up my lecture on the computer and looked out at the large grassy quad outside the window. Change was in the air. The fall light bounced off the buildings in a way I hadn’t noticed before. I tried to gather my thoughts.
“Good morning,” I said, starting the way I always did.
“I’m not sure what to say today,” My voice trembled. The words stuck in my throat and I could feel tears begin to well up in the corners of my eyes. “I’m just not…” my voice trailed off.
I looked out at the students, my eyes drawn to the brown and black faces. My heart ached.
“In the past 48 hours…,” I swallowed hard.
I felt the rage well up inside me. It didn’t seem like that long ago that I was their age, just starting out. Things seemed so clear to me then. I was full of hope and enthusiasm. I was going to make a difference. I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. lived with like-minded people. I found strength in my faith. I chose a career in social work.
But over time things got complicated. What was true wasn’t always what was easy. I was afraid to make waves. I wanted people to like to me. Over time, even the smallest change seemed overwhelming. I stayed in one job too long and then another. I sacrificed happiness for security. I kept silent. I ignored my truth.
Somewhere along the road, I lost my way.
A few years ago on a trip to Nicaragua, I met an man from El Salvador who, when he was young, had studied to be a priest with Archbishop Oscar Romero. One night, as we sat talking in the cool Matagalpa air, he told me about his time with Romero, when the tiny country of El Salvador was mired in a Civil War. The people were suffering from tremendous injustice at the hands of a government fueled by the country I call home. As a seminarian and a Salvadoreño, he and many others, fought for what they believed in, for a country where they could be free from fear, violence and hate.
I was in awe. He had seen things I could not even imagine. Wasn’t he afraid? How had he found the courage to do what he had done? I was sure that I could not, would not have done the same.
“It was the only choice,” he said. "Our people were dying."
I thought about those words as I listened to my students share their own experiences of injustice. Stories of discrimination, racism and hate. All around us are voices of denial. We are afraid to face the truth. We have chosen what is easy over what is right and people are dying.
This can’t go on. We can’t continue to ignore the injustice that is all around us. We cannot stay silent. We can’t allow our children to grow up in a world where people are still judged by the color of their skin, or the money in their bank account or their gender or sexual orientation.
We’ve got to find a way. It is the only choice we have.