This past Wednesday I left my office at 10AM to join other members of my Villanova University community to stand in memory of those slain in Parkland, FL last month and to stand in solidarity with people around the country who are working to make our schools, indeed, our lives safer and more humane. At our gathering there were speeches and a poem, along with silence. What I was struck by was the passion of the speakers, all first year students, who challenged us to not only act on behalf of those killed in Parkland, FL but to remember that black and brown children die almost every day on the streets of our cities. They were black and brown young people who spoke, who spoke from their own experience of friends and family members dying young, stars that “burned out too soon.” Regardless of what one thinks about the particular issue of gun violence, it is impressive to hear young people articulate their vision of a better world.
This past week George Mason University students have been at the Center. I’ve had the chance to sit down with them, to hear about their own dreams and visions, their questions and concerns, their grasp of the issues and their desire to be the change they want to see. It was inspiring! It always is. One of the blessings of CFET’s capacity to welcome young people, from colleges and high schools, to our space in Waterfront South is the opportunity to witness the passion, the commitment and the wisdom of the young. The future belongs to young people, and when I meet them, and listen to their vision, and witness their passion, I am blessed with a sense that the future is bright in terms of those who will lead us.
When people spend time with us at CFET, they get a chance to get their hands dirty in the soil of our gardens, soil that we have worked to make chemical free through organic means (we are excited that all of our gardens have been tested safe for growing food!). They get a chance to sit down, over a meal, with homeless men and women, to hear their stories and to learn from them how precarious life can be, and how all of us are not very far away from struggling to find a place to sleep securely. They get a chance to work with the children of Sacred Heart Elementary School, to encounter the wide-eyed innocence of children who deserve a world of beauty, love and peace, but who often run into obstacles that make those things less possible. They have the opportunity to see how powerful they can be, and how many partners are available to join them in the work of transformation. Often times they come, uncertain as to what the week or weekend will give them, but they leave richer, richer in wisdom about the world, richer in relationship, and richer in the knowledge that even in the most difficult circumstances, hope can be found.
We are the Center for Environmental Transformation. While much of our work is focused on growing chemical free food and educating people in a more gentle way of living on Mother Earth, we also know that the environment includes the people and our relationship with each other. We are all brothers and sisters to each other. We share a common home, and a common responsibility. We cannot ignore the distress of our brothers and sisters in addressing the distress of our climate or our ecosystems. Environmental justice and social justice are linked, so should the work that we do.
I thought of this as my brown and black brothers and sisters spoke of the violence they have experienced on the streets of their home town. I thought of this in the wake of the Parkland, FL shooting, when some communities from less affluent neighborhoods, wondered why, suddenly, so much attention was given to the kind of violence that marks their lives almost every day. We must have a holistic understanding of the ways in which violence marks our relationships, to each other, to Earth, to other species, to ourselves. We are all in this together, and sometimes it can seem quite overwhelming and paralyzing, tempting to simply withdraw into the fantasy world of binging “Homeland.” But that is a dangerous temptation!
We each have to do our “bit.” Each person who spoke at the walk out on Wednesday at Villanova University did his or her bit. The young people from Parkland, FL who have decided to organize for change: they are doing their bit. The students from George Mason University are doing their bit by spending their spring break in Camden at CFET.
What is your “bit?” What are you doing to address the challenges we face as a community? This is not the time to deflect the question. Future generations will want to know what we did when faced with environmental and social challenges of such gargantuan dimensions. What will you be able to tell them?
Join us at CFET, do your “bit” by helping us to do our “bit.” And then write your member of Congress, become educated on the issues, listen to the young people in your community, vote, run for office yourself, on the local level to begin. Why not?
If not us, who? If not now, when?
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.
President Emeritus, CFET Board of Trustees