The dog no one wanted…

Too big.”
“Too loud.”
“Too strong.”
“Too aggressive.”
“Too naughty.”
“She runs away too often.”
How many times had she been brought back to the shelter?
Sarah didn’t know any of that.
All she knew was this:
For a creature who wanted nothing more than to run wild & free,
She was dying a little, every day, in this tiny cage, at the Norfolk Animal Shelter.
Eventually people stopped taking a chance on her.
And so, day after day, Sarah stared listlessly out of the cage,
with her big, baleful, brown eyes.
Until one day, her beautiful brown eyes met another pair:
But these brown eyes were kind, twinkly, loving, and full of promise.
A 9 yr. old troublemaker that no one else wanted sounded perfect to Samantha.
And so, as had happened many times before,
Sarah was loaded into a car and driven to another new home.
But this time, something was different.
Samantha offered Sarah unconditional love and acceptance;
Samantha loved Sarah for who she was, not who people wanted her to be.
In the beginning Sarah still ran away, daily, weekly.
Always looking for something. What was it?
Freedom? The home she had once loved and lost?
But Samantha cheerfully chased after her, and always brought her back home.
Not back to the animal shelter.
Eventually Sarah moved with Samantha to a big house and yard in a small town,
Where Sarah finally had all of the room and love she had always craved.
A funny thing happened at the new house: Sarah eventually stopped running.
And when she did run….she ran home.
Sarah had found what she was looking for.
Because for Samantha, Sarah wasn’t too anything, except too perfect.
Sarah’s only real fault,
Like that of all dogs,
Was that her time with us was too short.
And so on a cold December day, Sarah left us,
But not before Samantha made Sarah’s last two years, the best of her whole life.
Farewell, sweet Sarah. Thank you for coming home to us.

Seeking Common Ground

 I know that it can’t be easy to be my friend, either in real life, or on Facebook. The past five years of deep political turmoil, societal inequity, and racial reckoning have been traumatic for me and I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut and my Facebook profile focused on pictures of my pets. Partly because of the times we live in, partly because of my career in education, and partly because of who my kids have grown up to be, I care DEEPLY about social justice issues.  This year at Alfred I am teaching one of the “Common Ground” classes for new students in which we struggle to come to terms with our differences and to discuss them with civility.  I applaud Alfred’s efforts to do on a micro level what we desperately need on a macro level in our society.  20 years ago, the Sept. 11th attacks historically brought us together.  Now, the greatest–and far deadlier–crisis we have faced since then has only served to divide us more bitterly. We have prolonged the pandemic because we cannot even agree on if it exists and how to best survive it.  We have responded by shooting minimum wage clerks trying to enforce mask policies; by plotting to kidnap, try, and execute the governor of Michigan over COVID restrictions; by punching schoolteachers in the face; and by distrusting and vilifying the very doctors, scientists, and health-care workers who are trying to save us. When our capitol was invaded and vandalized earlier this year, and police officers were beaten with American flags, despite endless video footage and multiple deaths, we cannot even agree on whether it was an insurrection or loving and patriotic tourists snapping pictures. There is little or no “united” left in the United States.

If you are reading this post it means that, unlike many, you have hung in there with me through my various rants, angry posts, anti-Trump vitriol, and sarcastic memes. I have lost a lot of friends and even family members. I have never unfriended anyone on Facebook because of politics, (although I did unfriend two over abusive treatment of my friends and me.) I try, and I desire to be, quite willing to put up with different political viewpoints and to consider the validity of counter arguments.  This road of deep division and distrust leads to nowhere good, for us, for our communities, our schools, and our society.  While I want to remain open to input and reasoned arguments from the other side and respond with civility to differences, I cannot “agree to disagree” on racism and homophobia.  I know that my liberal views put me at odds with many other believers. I can only offer that I am trying my best to live out my faith in the way that makes the most sense to me; the Jesus that I understand means that I envision a very wide and inclusive path to heaven.

Even though I am likely “preaching to the choir” here–because most of my Facebook friends who disagree strongly with me have unfollowed, unfriended, or in some instances, blocked me–but I want to thank those of you who have stuck with me.  I always tried to instruct my own kids that, “no one gets up in the morning and plans to be a jerk.”  We are all doing the best we can with the cards we’ve been dealt. My concern is that families, churches, communities and indeed our nation, is in danger of unraveling over these divisions. Human beings have always solved our challenges by coming together.  When I taught high school Social Studies, I always asked my classes to remember “A Bug’s Life” and to watch for “strength in numbers” as one of the most significant and recurring factors in history.  We need strength in numbers more than ever today. I’m not referencing nationalism, but rather, the human community and our need to save the planet, defeat COVID, overcome racism, end gun violence, and live in harmony with one another.  To be honest, I have little or no optimism that this will ever happen. And yet–from time to time–I see little glimmers of hope.  I see it in Alfred University and its Common Ground course, in the self-sacrifice of the members of the local Fire and Ambulance Company that I have joined, I see it in believers who are trying to live out Christ’s message of transcendent love and social justice.  I see it in the next generation of teachers I encounter in my work at Alfred, and I want, desperately, to see it in myself. 

And so, today, I want to thank you for hanging in there with me and I want to know that if I have offended you with my posts and yet we are still friends, that we are—together–a tiny part of the solution to all of this.  Peace.   

Above all else: protect the children

From the time we were expecting our first child, at least until the last one left for college, I saw myself as having ONE JOB ABOVE ALL OTHERS: protecting my children and keeping them safe. Nothing else really mattered. Our first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and so we were frantic to protect the next child. We read of a possible link between waterbeds and miscarriage, so we slept in the twin beds in the guest room until the baby arrived safely.  Even if there was a microscopic chance that the waterbed could harm our child, it was worth the extra precaution. From doctor visits to nutrition to car seats to outlet covers to bike helmets to anticipating any possible dangers at home or at school, their mother and I were vigilant in keeping them safe and well.  (Once when a carseat check determined that JonDavid’s seat wasn’t up to standard, their grandpa–my dad–gave me his credit card and told me to go an buy the safest carseat I could find. Getting my kids safely over the finish line of adulthood was always priority one for me.

As such, I am flabbergasted by the bizarre world in which we find ourselves in which parents are protesting against mask safety, fighting for their child’s constitutional right to get (and possibly die of) COVID. So deep and irrational is their devotion to the former president, that they gladly use their children as a sacrificial offering.  Because Trump insisted on virus-denial and mask and vaccine resistance as hallmarks of devotion among his followers, we find parents punching teachers because of mask policy; an Austin TX father assaulted a teacher and ripped the mask off his face!  Angry parents are protesting school boards for attempting to keep students safe.  We have murderous governors in Florida and Texas legally forbidding schools from having a mask policy, even withholding the salaries of superintendents who defy their orders. Superintendents fighting to protect their students and teachers will now have to work without pay.  The world has gone mad. A simple face covering might protect your child from a deadly virus that has killed more than four million people worldwide. WHY THE HELL WOULD ANY PARENT RESIST that added measure of safety?!

Imagine how ridiculous we look to the rest of the world: countries who can only dream of our access to free vaccines. How I grieve the deadly politicization of this virus by the former president.  If only we could have UNITED to fight it instead of using it to increase the bitter divisions in our nation.  How many untold thousands of Americans would still be alive? And now I’m faced with preparing the next generation of earnest young teachers for this chaos in our classrooms and schools.  Please deserve them.  Please honor the incredibly challenging work being done by schools during the Pandemic.  Please make their lives easier, and safer.

When I don’t understand the other side of an argument, I try to consider it from the other person’s perspective.  So if you get all your information from FOX News or from Trump himself, maybe you believe that the entire virus is a hoax, or that masks don’t work, or that the vaccine doesn’t work.  I can (maybe?) see that. But you know what, where my kids are concerned: I err on the side of caution….Every. Damn. Time.  Ask yourself: How will you feel if you are wrong?  The worst that can happen to me is that I put up with the minor annoyance of wearing a mask around other people. The worst that can happen to you: you lose your kid.

Let’s fight the virus instead of each other.

Roll up your sleeves, America!

Last night on the news I watched the tragic images coming out of India and they destroyed me. India lacks the resources that we have and the situation there is horrifying. Family members desperately–and with utter futility–trying to save their loved ones dying of COVID: without hospitals, medicine, doctors, ventilators, oxygen, or vaccines. Funeral pyres signaling India’s sorrow and desperation to the heavens. What those people wouldn’t give for the opportunity to get a vaccination. And yet here, in the United States, ANY of us can now waltz down to the nearest hospital, drug store, or abandoned K-Mart and receive a FREE vaccine to protect us, our loved ones, and our communities. We have a pathway forward. But we also have a tragedy in the making because of the dangerous seeds of misinformation that have been sewn about the virus and the vaccine. 45% of Republicans say they will never get it; more shocking still, 41% of evangelicals say they never will. This ignorance, fear, and selfishness will doom us to living with this virus for years to come.

I have survived cancer twice and open-heart surgery; my health is precious to me. Thus I was the first in line in January to get my vaccinations (with zero side effects.) I can now safely be with my family and friends. I can visit my elderly mother and fly to Texas to see my son. I can invite friends over to my house again. Won’t you please roll up your sleeves and join me in gaining the peace of mind that comes with being vaccinated? I want our lives back.

“A man after God’s own heart”

Across my four decades in the Genesee Valley I have been immeasurably blessed by the ministry of three godly senior pastors at the Houghton Wesleyan Church: Mark Abbott, Mike Walters, and most recenty Wes Oden. On the occasion of Wes and Cindy’s quarter century of ministry with us I’d like to pause and pay tribute to the third member of that trilogy. I’m a lover of written communication, but words fail me as I try to explain how deeply I appreciate, and have been blessed by, Pastor Wes Oden, and I know that I’m only one of hundreds that have been so deeply touched by his ministry, and yet one of Wes’s amazing gifts is that he often makes me feel as if I am his only congregant. Just as a loving parent makes each one feel that s/he is the favorite child, so it is so easy for me to imagine that Pastor Wes and I have a singularly unique and special relationship.

The bond I feel with the Pastor Wes was forged early as our children grew up in the church.  One Sunday nearing the end of the sermon, Anthony proclaimed loudly “that guy will be done soon!” And another time Anthony whispered loudly to me in church, “that guy has a direction name!” Once when two-year old JonDavid somehow wandered out onto the platform mid-sermon (long story) Wes looked over at him as the congregation all laughed and said “Well, hello there!” with JonDavid beaming brightly at everyone in the congregation.  Wes, who was speaking on “What mean these stones?” walked over and picked up JonDavid and wove his impromptu appearance so eloquently into his sermon: discussing how critical it is that we raise our children to know the meaning of the altar and the stones. Wes barely missed a beat, and afterwards several asked us how we had managed to stage that scene!

But it was another incident with our children that I remember most fondly. In those days, Nathan & Casda Danner and their four children and Olga and I with our three were always the last ones to leave after church. We visited while our children played happily together, usually in the fellowship hall. One memorable day–while there were still quite a few people in the sanctuary and we were standing in the back visiting–one of the doors at the front burst open – crashing into the wall and our seven whooping, laughing raucous children came racing into the church. Casda and I were mortified and apologized to Wes and everyone standing around and tried to shush the kids. Wes said, “No, no, please don’t quiet them. This is how children should feel about being at church. They should be joyful and happy to be here and feel like they are at home. I love the sound of their voices!” I still get tears in my eyes remembering his wise words.

In more recent years, when I have faced crises in my life, Wes has always been there to support me. In 2009 when I learned that my job at the college was being cut, I’d barely gotten the news myself and was sitting in my office, alone and stunned, when Wes appeared in the doorway and said “I’ve just heard, I don’t know what to say, but can I pray with you?” When I took my terrifying ambulance ride to Strong three years ago and learned that I had to have open-heart surgery, my cell phone rang in my hospital room, I looked down and of course it said “Wes Oden.” Like Radar O’Reilly, he has an uncanny ability to know when I need him and then rushes to my side. He and Cindy came to visit me in Roswell after my cancer surgery. More recently when I went through some unsettling experiences at my home in Fillmore, related to my “Black Lives Matter” sign, I got several messages from both Wes and Cindy offering their prayers, concern, and support for me. I never have to ask for prayer or support. Wes is already there before I even realize I need him.

It’s hard to imagine a nicer and more gentle spirit than Pastor Wes Oden, or someone more ideally suited to the pastorate. But Wes’s gifts to our community go beyond niceness.  Last summer, as our nation was being ripped apart by the long overdue racial reckoning, I saw a tweet that said “If your church isn’t talking about racism this Sunday, you need a new church.”  I somehow doubted that we would at our church because of the volatile topic and the conservative nature of this area.  But then Wes beautifully preached the most caring, compassionate, timely and yet also BOLD sermon about a Christian response to racism.  He perfectly named and honored the moment, not shying away from a volatile and controversial topic, and yet like everything else he does, he did so graciously, and grounded in his faith and wisdom.

I was working at the college the day the Odens were candidating at the church. A small but memorable incident was a harbinger for this past quarter century. I briefly met the Wes and Cindy early that morning when they came by the Student Life Office on a campus tour. I was one of literally hundreds of people they met that day. When I was going home from work that evening the Odens were arriving for a dinner meeting. I smiled as I passed them and Cindy said “Tim, it was so nice meeting you this morning, thank you making us feel welcome.” I am the WORST with names, and yet Cindy cared enough to memorize mine and has this amazing capacity to let those around her know how deeply she cares. That has been shown and proven time and time again across the past quarter century. It is also impossible to understate the myriad ways that Cindy’s quiet, loving graciousness has blessed our church through her ministry.

During our turbulent socio-political times, I have at times lost faith in the organized church, but our dear pastors remind me of what Christendom should and can be. Wes and Cindy, thank you, from the bottom of my heart; I am forever grateful that God brought you into our community, our church, and my life.

Once upon a house…

“There’s a house whose rooms I know by heart,
where I hosted friends and celebrated holidays,
where dreams were dreamt and memories made,
where my children grew up and I grew old.
There’s a house where life was lived,
a house where I belong.”

I knew I’d love you from the start:
I walked in on a day in May in 1992, got as far as the staircase,
and said to the realtor: “I’ll take it.”
When I was growing up, my family always rented and moved frequently;
I wanted my children to have a permanent place to put down roots;
And to think I found it on Emerald Street.
Twenty-eight years ago our story together began,
and today, it comes to an end.
I love my new house in Alfred, but I know that for as long as I live,
I will carry with me the sadness of leaving you today.

You were the beautiful canvas on which I painted my life.
Memories of barking dogs, crying babies, playing children, laughing teenagers;
Olga and I planting a flowering crabapple on the day we moved in;
That very first meal, in a pile of boxes, with Bruce, Kathie, & Suzanne;
Toby, Tasha, Taylor, Tessie, & Tillie romping on the lawn;
Setting up the nursery and bringing three little bundles home from the hospital.
The birthdays: the yellow-brick road, Hogwarts castle, giant Candyland board;
Christmas decorating, cookie baking, carols around the piano, the annual parties;
Adding on the not-so-new-anymore family room;
The trampoline, playground, and pool: the best money I ever spent;
The bonfires and backyard campouts in the tent;
The dog and hamster burials we will leave behind;
Friday Night Pizza, cousins’ visits and sleepovers; and always: the Brennemans;
Adding a fourth child — from Switzerland;
The last time my dad visited, our last meal with Bruce;
The RA parties, cast parties, slumber parties: kids crowded into the family room;
And then in a blur of the school bus stopping at the end of the driveway
And the minivan pulling in and out of the garage, it was over.
Then I was home alone with Tillie, comforted by this beloved old place;
Every room, nook, & cranny alive with happy memories and ghosts of the past;
Across three decades we were rarely separated:
The longest was my seven weeks in Virginia for open-heart surgery;
I wasn’t sure if I would live to walk through your doors again;
I’ll never forget turning onto Emerald Street,
and discovering that my precious kids had decorated for Christmas, inside and out;
In 28 years, this house had never looked more beautiful to me than that day.
My mom has always said, “It takes a heap o’ livin’ to make a house a home.”
I wish I’d gotten to do all of the retirement projects I had in mind for you.
May your new owners love you as well as I did.
You served us well; I will carry you forever in my heart.
My home.

At Twenty-Six

At 26 I had not yet been to Italy;  I had not even seen California.

At 26 I had not yet been to Central Park, nor stuck my feet in the ocean.

At 26 I had not yet experienced a computer, the wonders of the internet, nor a smartphone.

At 26 I had not yet owned a home of my very own.

At 26 I had not yet met many of the friends I cherish so deeply today.

At 26 I had not yet embarked on life’s greatest adventure: fatherhood. 

At 26 I had not yet held my child in my arms; my precious children did not even exist.

At 26 I still had at least 35 more years to go.

At 26 all of my best years and adventures still lay before me.

At 26 Breonna Taylor had no more years, no more adventures, no more days, no more breaths. 

At 26 Breonna Taylor was shot and killed, in her bed, by the Louisville Police.

At 26 Breonna Taylor had the rest of her life stolen from her by the police, who were found “not guilty.”

#JusticeforBreonna #BlackLivesMatter #EndPoliceBrutality

Black Lives Matter

As I do every evening, I was walking my faithful collie right outside my home last night.  A pick-up truck drove–much too fast–past me, but because Tillie was safely out of the road, I barely noticed.  Until it reached the crest of the hill beyond my house, slammed on its brakes, and someone yelled back loudly and menacingly at me, “F##king N-word Lover!” then laid rubber and sped off up the road. 

My heart pounded as I raced back inside with Tillie and went around and locked all of my doors and windows.  In three decades of living here I’d never felt so unsafe before.  I was shocked, saddened, scared, but most of all, disgusted that such ugly public racism had invaded my peaceful little village.  It was an apparent reference to the “Black Lives Matter” sign I had in my yard about three months ago, until it was stolen (pictured above.)  The pick-up truck driver had apparently been carrying around his rage about my sign ever since then, which only made it more traumatic for me.  

It was terribly jarring to hear that highly offensive racial epitaph used after so long.  I used to hear it in my childhood, but never in my enlightened adult world of academia. How can anyone still be using that awful word in 2020?  How dare he defile my street, my neighborhood, and my home with his ugly hate speech? I alternated between fear and anger the rest of the night, and then slept badly because every time Tillie heard something outside and “woofed” at it, I awoke with a start and couldn’t get back to sleep.

Today I contemplated reporting it to the police, but then found myself wondering how they would react to an incident originating with a “Black Lives Matter” sign.  And then it hit me: I’d had the tiniest, most insignificant, dose of what our Black brothers and sisters live with every day of their lives.  Every damn day. I hesitate to compare anything about my privileged white male existence to theirs, but at the same time it taught me something that I feel like I need to write about.  I had one really minor incident.  Their experiences are inexorably bound to the generational trauma that has been inflicted on Black Americans. Their lives are affected every day and in every way by our deeply racist policies and practices. 

Imagine feeling fearful every time a car slows or stops near you.  Imagine the terror you feel when pulled over by a cop – every Black American is haunted by the possibility that any traffic stop gone wrong could result in their death.  That has never crossed my mind when I get pulled over.  I recently learned of a deeply distressing experience of our Black students at the University where I work: when they visit the local Wal-Mart, they are required to surrender their backpacks, even though the White students never have to.  When our Director of Diversity and Inclusion (himself a Black man) inquired about the policy, the Wal-Mart manager said “Yes, that is exactly what we do.” THAT is the air our Black students breathe.

The peaceful privileged air I breathe was disrupted by this ugly incident last night, and yet, I had the luxury of considering going to the police with my fears.  Few, if any, of my Black brothers and sisters would even consider that. By bitter experience they have learned that the police are there as their foes, not as their protectors.  Where are they supposed to turn?  

I had a one small very unsettling experience.  What if that represented my whole life?  What if I, my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents had been battling that racial hatred for generations?  I was terrified last evening as those hateful words hung in the night air.  But how terrified were Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Phillip Pannell and countless others in their final moments before having their lives snuffed out for the crime of being Black in America?

Having to live in that world is the reason the Black Lives Matter protest movement MUST exist. That is what Colin Kaepernick was trying to tell us. That is why I am an ally of that movement. That is why I will not be deterred by this incident. And THAT is why “All Lives Matter” is NEVER the proper response to “Black Lives Matter.”  Never say that to me again.


“I’m Just Different.”

In my six decades on earth, I have encountered a lot of sadness, tragedies, outrages, and injustices, and the pace of these events has decidedly accelerated since January 20, 2017.  Sometimes it feels as if life is but a tug-of-war, with hope and happiness on one side fighting against darkness and despair on the other. Which side will prevail?  Last month when I listened to the recording of sweet, gentle Elijah McClain pleading for his life, something snapped inside me.  I don’t think I can ever get it back.  It has become increasingly apparent to me that the darkness has won.

As 140-pound, unarmed Elijah struggled for his life, on the ground, handcuffed, with three cops on top of him, putting him in the carotid hold that ended his life, he lacked the strength and the weaponry to challenge his attackers. Bewildered by the inhumane murderous treatment–when he was entirely innocent–he was left only with words. He tried valiantly to use words to let them know what a non-threatening, gentle soul he was.  He told them he loved them for God’s sake!  He told them he was a vegetarian and would never hurt anyone, which of course, contributed to his astonishment about why he was being slowly and intentionally murdered by the policemen. (After several minutes elapsed of the cops watching him struggle to live and continuing to deprive him of oxygen, this went well beyond an “accidental death.”) Elijah also tried, tragically, to explain, “I’m just different.”

I was “different” in high school also: I did not play nor follow sports; I didn’t go hunting; I listened to ABBA instead of Led Zepplin.  I was the proverbial last one to be picked for the team in gym class. (Why the hell did we ever do that?!) I suspect Elijah might have been as well.  In What’s Up Doc, Barbra Streisand’s character, Judy Maxwell, says “I know I’m different, but from now on I’m going to try and be the same.” Another character asks, “The same as what?” Judy answers, “The same as people who aren’t different.” 

Along our way through life, we get socialized into not being “different.” We attempt to conform our quirks to the standard norm. Society eschews differences.  In 1961 Baltimore, Broadway character Tracy Turnblad triumphantly reflects the optimism of JFK’s New Frontier, proclaiming “Those who are different, our time is coming!”

Tracy Turnblad, Judy Maxwell, and I ended up being allowed to be different because we are privileged and white.  (Also, Tracy was wrong.) What did Elijah mean when he pleaded with the police, “I’m just different?” Would the world have eventually persuaded or forced Elijah to stop being different and be “the same?” Would his time have ever come to be embraced and celebrated for being different?  We’ll never know because the police snuffed the life out of him on that horrible night. Was Elijah murdered by the police because he was different? Or because he was Black? Our deeply racist culture would not allow Elijah to be both.

As a white, middle-class male, I was given the luxury in life to remain fairly different: I’m the liberal oddball in a very conservative family and am one of the few Democrats in a very red area of western New York.  Like Elijah, I’m a vegetarian.  I detest the unspeakable suffering of animals in our factory farms on their way to our tables, grocery stores, and restaurants.  Also like Elijah, I grieve having animals trapped in shelters. That was why he spent his spare time serenading shelter animals by playing his beloved violin to make their dreary shelter existence a little more bearable.  (That, by the way, was the life force that the Aurora police force felt needed to be crushed until it ceased to exist.)  He had after all, had the temerity to look “sketchy” while going to buy iced tea.  My great grandfather’s name was Elijah, is that one reason I feel his short life and tragic death so keenly?  Is it because I see him as a kindred spirit? Or is it because when I look at pictures of him before that awful night, I see my own children’s eyes smiling back at me?

My own precious children are what keep me going when the shattering darkness gets to be too much; I would lay down my life for any of them in a heartbeat. How can any parent of any color listen to the recording of Elijah’s final minutes and not have the same horrifying reaction of imagining our own child in his place?  How I wish I had been there to try and come between Elijah and those murderous cops.  I have lived a good long life: I would have sacrificed it to save his precious young one.  We are ALL Elijah’s parents and we have ALL failed him miserably.  And until we fix our dangerous and tragically broken system, we are failing all of God’s Black children who have not been murdered by the police yet, but who will.  For the love of God, join me in working to overcome racism and demanding change.  We begin by celebrating differences rather than fearing them, and by rejecting our own racism. Each of us must take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves this: “What part did I play in why sweet, gentle, different Elijah McClain is not still with us?”

#ImJustDifferent #FreeToBeYouAndMe #BlackLivesMatter #ElijahMattered #JusticeforElijah #SayHisName

One thing, every day

(cover photo credit: Matthew Weidenbach, Illuminated Shadows Photography)

This past weekend gave me the privilege to be a part of history: marching alongside thousands of others at the Black Lives Matter/Stop Killing Us Protest Rally in Rochester, NY. People of all races and ages met in Martin Luther King Jr. Park, listened to speeches, meditated and sang together, and then marched to the police station. After the murder of George Floyd, the most recent horror inflicted on the black community, I–like so many others–wanted to stand with our black brothers and sisters in outrage and to try to make this a human issue, not only a racial one.

The protest march was cathartic for me, but it was symbolic only. I hope it helps to shine light on the problem of systemic racism, but in and of itself, it doesn’t change anything. The harder work is what each of us needs to do inside ourselves, in a brutal examination of the role of racism and privilege in our own lives and actions. If I want to honor the lives and protest the brutal deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and so many others, that is what I must do, not just march.

Before I can become a part of the solution, I must stop being a part of the problem. I live in a small town in a rural area with no racial diversity and without a police force. I do not have investments to divest. What can someone in my situation do? I’ve determined that this is not a sufficient excuse. I am vowing to myself–and publicly in this blog–to do one thing each day to end racism in my life, in my work, in my community, and in my world. Most days it will have to be something small like reading an article, watching a TED talk, or even just listening. (Something that white men like me are exceptionally bad at.) But I hope that other days it can be something great.

Despite my setting and circumstances, I have a powerful opportunity for change that many do not. I am a teacher, and not just that, but a teacher of teachers. I have always striven to help prepare these students to be inclusive and celebrate diversity, but I now have a renewed vision and catalyst to go further than that. My teacher candidates will each encounter @3000 students during their careers. Education in America has always been our best engine for social change and has succeeded where government policy makers have failed. How can the dialogue and interactions we have in my classes help–even on a small level–move future generations beyond racism? A what do I need to learn from my students in the process?

I would ask my friends, colleagues, relatives, current and former students, my precious friends from the Long Civil Rights Movement Seminar at Yale, anyone reading this to help me in this quest. Of course it is not your job to educate me: that I must do for myself, and I pledge to do so. But I do need help with my blind spots. My students and my own children have been great at that over the years. Ever since graduate school I’ve been fascinated by the concept of the Johari window (below) As we self disclose and gain input from others, we expand the arena of what is known while reducing the other confining and limiting areas. This process occurs only through free dialogue with, and feedback from, others.

Please do not be afraid to give me input, to educate me about my blind spots and to tell me hard truths that I need to hear. I am only one small person–and an old one at that–is it even possible for me to make a difference? The problem of systemic racism and four centuries of oppression can seem so great, tragic, and deeply entrenched that we are tempted to throw up our hands and decide that change is impossible, or expect someone else, such as future generations, to solve it for us. But we must fight every day, until every one of us can truly breathe free. The change that is so desperately needed happens in each human heart, one at a time. I’m doing everything I can to change mine, I pledge that to myself, and to all of you. Join me.