A Message on George Floyd †, Race and Jesuit Education from Loyola High School President, Fr. Gregory M. Goethals, SJ ’73.
“As millions of people across the country take to the streets and raise their voices in response to the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing problem of unequal justice, many people have reached out asking how we can sustain momentum to bring about real change. Ultimately, it’s going to be up to a new generation of activists to shape strategies that best fit the times.” – President Barack Obama
Dear Loyola Community,
My heart is sad and heavy today, as it has been for quite some time. And because of the injustice of the death of George Floyd last week, and our society’s responses to that injustice, the sadness and heaviness are almost unbearable right now.
As we have known for the past 11 weeks, we are living in unprecedented times—the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we all live and left all of us disoriented, frustrated, sometimes angry and, in many ways, feeling profoundly helpless.
And now, the killing of George Floyd has turned the world upside down yet again, and all of that disorientation, frustration, anger and helplessness has taken itself to the streets in civil unrest that is widespread and troubling to all.
So, I want to be very clear here – Black Lives Matter.
In this country, the way in which Black Americans experience the world is less just, more dangerous and provides far fewer overall opportunities than there are for others—than there are for me—in our society. That is a stain that is also an intolerable sin in our culture, and we must eradicate it. And for us here at Loyola High School it should—and has to be—the focus of who we are and what we do at this important moment in our history.
The quote from President Barack Obama above is an essential one—a new generation of activists has to lead this charge. But we have heard that before, and it seems that every generation says the same thing, that the hope to right the wrongs of previous generations rests with them. Yet even with each generation’s best intentions, it is never enough—even if our society seems to change somewhat, it changes agonizingly slowly, and it is never enough.
We cannot tolerate waiting any longer for what will be enough. It is time now for our society to make real change. It is time that we here at Loyola show the courage and the fortitude to be a part of that real change.
Stopping this seemingly endless cycle of injustice is the mission and soul of all Jesuit institutions, and therefore it is the mission and soul of Loyola. As we know from Fr. General Arturo Sosa, SJ in Rome in his recently published Universal Apostolic Preferences for all Jesuit works, the essential mission of each Jesuit institution is to bring peace to our world through implementation of universal justice for all people.
Every radical Jesuit I have ever met (which are most Jesuits), as well as every Jesuit who formed me in my vocation, has said time and time again—there cannot be radical peace in our world without radical justice for all.
As a part of this, we can of course say that all lives matter, but for true justice to live in our society, there has to be a specificity in our focus on Black Lives and on all lives lived with injustice as the parameters of their daily existence.
There are systemic injustices in American society—injustices based on race, gender, sexual orientation, education, poverty and religion. And all of us have blind spots as to our own prejudices in these areas. Because of this, we have to take intentional steps for our own conversion to root out these personal prejudices. And beyond that, we have to take even more intentional steps to root them out of the larger systemic injustices around us. We need to understand profoundly that separating ourselves, and categorizing others, are the roots of injustice and therefore, the end of peace.
That is why an Ignatian education is as important today as always, and why Jesuits continue to make it their mission to work in educational institutions. The best way to change someone’s heart is through a broad and inclusive educational experience that expands our thinking and our understanding of the world. An especially important piece in that is to experience the humanity in those we may see as “other” from ourselves. When we experience that humanity, the “other” disappears, and we become “One.”
Jesuit education specifically makes that change happen because of the context of it as an experience of God’s unconditional love. That love is rigorous, that love is transformative and that love has the power to change perceptions of others, perceptions of ourselves and perceptions of how we should live in the world. Those profound interior changes are the actual roots of true justice and therefore the beginning of peace.
This has always been both the philosophy and theology of Jesuit education as well as the nuts and bolts of it. And it is why it continues to be relevant and necessary, as a force for the good of all people in our world.
Therefore, my request in these turbulent days is that we all say, “Black Lives Matter!”
With that, I also ask that we renew our commitment to a rigorous Jesuit education to eradicate the stain of racism, as well as the stain of all prejudice from our society. In doing so, we will empower a new generation of activists who will lead the way and fulfill our promise to all people that there will be peace because there will be justice. That has to be our mission. Let’s all seek to make that mission real, and to ensure that this essential good must, and will, last forever.
In God’s unconditional love,
Fr. Gregory M. Goethals, SJ ’73
President, Loyola High School of Los Angeles