Dear residents, friends and neighbors of the city of Ashland:
Our nation is in the crucible right now: a situation of severe trial, in which several different elements interact, leading in the end to the creation of something new. These are times when our character is tested. These are times of great adversity where great strength can emerge. I believe that it is how we use these crucible moments that matters. A big part of how we use them is how we view them. The choice is ours to make.
The events of the past week in Minnesota and the rest of the country have been disturbing and horrific to many of us. We have been bombarded with crisis after crisis and it feels at times like the world as we knew it is shattering to pieces. Political polarization, skyrocketing unemployment, the threat of COVID-19 infections and death, extreme disparity between rich and poor, racism, hatred, police brutality and looting and arson in the streets too close to home. The sorrow, anger and grief are overwhelming. As a local leader, I condemn the actions of the police officers in Minneapolis as I do all acts of hatred.
As a nation, as a community and as individuals we may not have ever experienced such challenging events in our lifetime. The death of George Floyd at the hands of uniformed police officers is just the most recent and visible of many unarmed people of color who have died unjustly. It is important to remember that as a nation, we and our ancestors have experienced other horrific traumas. We have much work to do as a society to ultimately heal the wounds that have festered in our culture for far too long.
Robert Kennedy, while announcing the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, said this and his words ring true with relevance as much today as when they were spoken 52 years ago. The added words in parentheses are mine.
“What kind of a nation are we? (What kind of a city are we?) What direction do we want to move in?” The choice is ours. Those who feel oppressed may choose to feel hatred, bitterness, and a desire for revenge.”
He then spoke of the alternative:
“What we need in the United States (and in our city) is not division; what we need in the United States (and in our city) is not hatred; what we need in the United States (and in our city) is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion towards one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, (and in our city) whether they be white or whether they be black” (or whether they be native, Hispanic, or any form of “other.”)
“The vast majority of people in this country (and (in this city) want to live peaceably together, want to improve the quaIity of our life and want justice for all human beings who live in our land. “
Teddy Roosevelt said, “It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage that we move on to better things.”
It is my prayer that as a community we will choose to be upheld by and tap into the ocean of love that is always in our community but is needed now more than ever. Let us choose to allow the grief from all of these events that have pushed us to near breaking point to be poured out. Let us listen to one another and try to understand. Let us each do a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and our own attitudes. Let us choose to be transformed by these experiences and this age into a new and stronger creation and a more loving community. Let us choose to have courage to face the challenges that each day brings. And let us continue to count our many blessings that we have as a community to begin to pick up the pieces and seek to heal together.
Debra Lewis is mayor of the city of Ashland.