June 12, 2020
Dear Prep Family,
As a Prep alumnus, my values were shaped right here at 144 Grand Street, and I know so many of us always look to Prep as the touchstone for “the banners that guide us.” One of the most important “banners” is that all who enter our doors are called to be men and women for and with others.
That phrase, in the spirit of Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., has been the hallmark of Jesuit institutions worldwide for nearly 50 years. It is abundantly clear that racism is diametrically opposed to that call. That is true whatever form racism may take, from the overt act of prejudice or violence to the subtle but insidious slight. It is true in the moments when it is obvious and tangible in people’s actions, as in the senseless killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor in recent months. It is also true when it lurks beneath the surface of public life in the form of systemic racism. We cannot and will not overlook it. Human lives and futures are in the balance.
Rev. Bryan Massingale, professor of theology and social ethics at Fordham University, reminds us of this fundamental tenet of our faith: “We believe in the sacred inviolable dignity of every human being created in the image of God, full stop, no small print, no exceptions.” This truth must be front and center of our community’s response to racism, and it demands an unequivocal acknowledgment that Black Lives Matter.
As our country continues to grapple with the cruel reality of racism, our individual and collective responses have taken many forms. Whether we express ourselves through social media, or by uniting with others in protest, or reaching out to our elected officials to effect change, or sharing in conversation, the past few weeks have been a time of reckoning and reflection, hard questions and hope. Perhaps in taking these steps, we find ourselves boldly striving to be more open to growth, intellectually competent, religious, loving, and committed to doing justice—the hallmarks of a Saint Peter’s Prep graduate. That is certainly my hope for the entire Saint Peter’s Prep community.
In the days since my initial message to our students, parents, faculty, and staff, the conversation at Prep about race and racism has developed in a number of ways. I am proud of many of our student organizations and teams—Student Council, the Student Diversity Board, Vox, Dramatics, Football, Basketball, Track, and others—who have used their social media platforms to stand against racism and all forms of discrimination, hatred, and violence. During our closing assemblies, our principal, Mr. James DeAngelo, ’85, our incoming student council president, Johnnie Brooker, ’21, and I shared individual remarks about how recent events inform the responsibilities of each Prep student to advance justice in our communities and in our world.
During this week’s faculty and staff meetings, we dedicated time for conversations about racism in our country and at Prep, both in the present and in the past. Though occasionally uncomfortable, they were overwhelmingly enlightening. Using our prior training with Crossroads, an anti-racism training organization, as a framework, we engaged in dialogue about the current challenges we face in addressing racism and the ways racism affects all of us—especially our students, families, and colleagues who are people of color. Mr. DeAngelo and I also had the opportunity to meet with and listen to students, parents, alumni, and colleagues. We look forward to more of these important conversations over the summer. As we engage in this important dialogue, we will continue to develop action plans for living our commitment to doing justice more fully.
The following words of Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., President of Villanova University, resonate deeply with me: “No matter how empathetic I want to be, I have come to understand that the experience of race in America has made it impossible for me to comprehend fully how incidents like the death of George Floyd affect our black students, faculty, staff and alumni. I do, however, want these Villanovans to know that I share in their anger, their frustration, their pain and their sorrow. I stand ready to support them however I can. No one should live a life stifled by racism. All human life is sacred.”
By no means does Prep have all the answers, but we do have a community united in its desire to learn more and do better. Together, we will not only stand firmly against racism when it strikes, but also continue the work of nurturing our community with the Gospel message of love at the center, as we see the face of God in every face we see.
Sub Umbra Petri,
Michael A. Gomez, Ed.D., ’91