Reflecting on Charlottesville, Remembering Winston, And Honoring Our Commitment

 

Democracy Prep CEO Katie Duffy’s words to our scholars

I grew up in the South. In Virginia.

I grew up not far from Charlottesville; in fact, in high school, my friends and I could likely be found listening to music in Charlottesville, pretending that we were old enough to be attending the University of Virginia.  

In my hometown, I understood that there were racists. I saw the Confederate flags on the backs of pickup trucks. When I took a friend to my favorite diner, I was mortified when he told me they wouldn’t let us in because he was black.  

What I did not necessarily understand at the time, however, was how our institutions — of education, of community, of government — were systemically denying our fellow citizens’ rights, access, opportunity, and voice.

My time in Virginia was full of love. But, I’m white.

Saturday offered another painful reminder that my experiences were not universally shared. Where I felt love, others — both in Virginia and across the country — continue to experience hate.

Democracy Prep and our 6,500 scholars all commit to changing the world as our mission. Rest assured, our scholars will. What they need from us in positions of power and/or privilege is encouragement and empowerment — encouragement to stand up tall, and empowerment to speak loudly. They deserve protection from all who would do them harm and a commitment to use our platforms to name injustice and inequity when we see it.

Our scholars are working to make our union a more perfect one. Our responsibility is to ensure that those who would persecute, silence, or disenfranchise them — like the vile white supremacists, Klansmen, and Nazis who marched openly through Charlottesville carrying torches — do not impede our scholars’ efforts.

The night before the violence in Charlottesville, I was at a memorial service for Winston Perez-Ventura, our alumnus who passed away in a tragic accident. That evening, as classmates and friends remembered Winston, I saw many moved to tears.  But I also saw a commitment to remember him by being more like him — more considerate, more driven, more hopeful.

It is in his memory, and in his manner, that I offer these words to my scholars at Democracy Prep, borrowed from Albert Camus:

In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.

In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.

In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

Finding the words was a challenge, and I’m sure I missed on some, but I have a platform, and privilege, and that requires me to say something.

 

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