Tom Wahlrab, a fellow and board member of the ISCT,  and the former director of the Dayton Mediation Center, has lived his life according to relational values.  For the past 30-some years, he has focused his efforts on supporting transformation of the interactions among the people of Dayton, Ohio.  This is part 3 of 3 posts that contain the transcript of a commencement address that Tom delivered to the 2017 graduating class of Olney Friends School in Barnesville, OH.  

The differences between us, some say, have caused us to be less united now that we were before the Civil war. How we act on those differences though is a choice.

When a black man died while in police custody, our police chief was pilloried by several community leaders and young people began to demonstrate. Our city seemed on the verge of widespread disruption if not violence. Community members came together and wrote a statement of promise, and at the same time, outlined exactly what they would do to improve community/police relations and provide a platform for the voices of our youth. All demonstrations ceased and even today the promised initiatives are thriving.

Understanding a person’s outrage is undermined by seeing him or her as the “other.”I believe we are in this life, in this sacred place now, to just be – for a moment – and then to act with, as Lincoln said, “malice toward none, charity for all.”

Recently, in Dayton, a nineteen-year-old man was arrested. He was an undocumented migrant from Mexico. This man had been living in the basement of a house, and daily, had a bag placed over his head as he was transported to and from a work site. He was 16 years old when he first came to Dayton.

A few years ago, one of our local roofing companies – a family owned company since the 1930s – was Federally indicted for essentially having slave laborers. The owner committed suicide.

The national police chief’s association has endorsed immigrant friendly initiatives because a community can’t be safe if its residents believe they will be deported if they report being criminally victimized. Can any of us sleep in peace knowing a slave is being kept in a neighbor’s basement?

In the same city in Mississippi where Emmett Till was lynched in 1955, a state representative recently said that leaders in New Orleans leaders, who supported the removal of civil war era statues, should be lynched.

Consider who we become when we see each other as demons. Consider who we are when we come together, yes to solve problems, but also to connect as human beings.

Olney has a long history. It has survived because you have learned to live with differences without demonizing the other. You graduates today are engraved in this history. You’ve played, had fun, challenged yourselves, each other and I expect your teachers also. You’ve learned how to grow your own food organically and raise animals humanely. You are ideally prepared to constructively challenge and take on the issues of our day.

I can’t sugar coat what awaits you. The police protecting us daily, the soldiers actively engaged in our multiple wars around the world, your mothers and fathers, your brothers and sisters, your neighbors, require your understanding and your resolve to know yourselves and make meaning of the events in your personal lives and world events.

Everyone, though, no matter their situation, need daily acts of caring and kindness. The charity that grows within you, that has been nurtured throughout your time here, will influence what is the history of humankind.

For more of Tom’s speech, see parts I and II.

 posted by Dan Simon

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