Introduction to A Community Dialogue Responding to Recent Tragedies

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Ed Bertschinger, Institute Community and Equity Officer
July 13, 2016

Good afternoon! Welcome!  I’m Ed Bertschinger, MIT’s Institute Community and Equity Officer. It’s my privilege to welcome you to this Community Dialogue Responding to Recent Tragedies, to introduce the event, and to prepare you for the work ahead. I begin with a poem by Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States.  

@ the Crossroads—A Sudden American Poem by Juan Felipe Herrera.

RIP Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—and all their families. And to all those injured.
Let us celebrate the lives of all
As we reflect & pray & meditate on their brutal deaths
Let us celebrate those who marched at night who spoke of peace
& chanted Black Lives Matter
Let us celebrate the officers dressed in Blues ready to protect
Let us know the departed as we did not know them before—their faces,
Bodies, names—what they loved, their words, the stories they often spoke
Before we return to the usual business of our days, let us know their lives intimately
Let us take this moment & impossible as this may sound—let us find
The beauty in their lives in the midst of their sudden & never imagined vanishing
Let us consider the Dallas shooter—what made him
what happened in Afghanistan
what
flames burned inside
(Who was that man in Baton Rouge with a red shirt selling CDs in the parking lot
Who was that man in Minnesota toppled on the car seat with a perforated arm
& a continent-shaped flood of blood on his white T who was
That man prone & gone by the night pillar of El Centro College in Dallas)
This could be the first step
in the new evaluation of our society    This could be
the first step of all of our lives

This is why we are here: We were invited by President Reif, who sends his regrets that he cannot be present because of international travel. But many of MIT’s senior leaders are here, including Provost Marty Schmidt and Chancellor Cindy Barnhart.

We are here in answer to President Reif’s call, when he wrote, “I believe our leading civic institutions have a responsibility to speak clearly against these corrosive forces and to act practically to inspire and create positive change. In this time of need, the MIT community has an opportunity to offer service of great value to our society, to our country and perhaps to the world by applying our unique strengths to the problem at hand.”

But we are also here because of our individual cries of pain, pangs of fear, and desire for peace and healing.

MIT prides itself on its mind and hand. Today we are exercising our heart.

Our goal today is not to solve a problem. This event is not about solutions. We can’t solve a problem we can’t hear each other talking about. First we must listen to each other with our whole hearts. To feel, to cry, to be held together.

You will be uncomfortable today. If you’re not uncomfortable, we’re not growing. Stay with us. Take strength from our students who’ve shared their vulnerability in the MIT Admissions Blogs – read them! Take strength in knowing that everyone here – faculty, summer students, alumni, MIT Police, support staff – everyone – is here to be together. In a caring community. We care deeply, so deeply that it sometimes hurts. That is okay.

Pay attention now: here’s the program. After the next speaker, you will focus on your group at a table. Each table has a facilitator who is prepared to help work with everyone to address some questions of the heart. Your facilitator will present discussion ground rules we invite you to respect. You’ll have until 1:20pm to explore together. There is no Q&A to the whole group – we are in four different rooms. You will have a chance to send notes and recommendations to the organizers by writing them on index cards. We will collect these and share a summary with the community by early fall.

I want to give thanks to those who made this event possible, starting with President Reif, whose passionate call for response to killings last week has brought us together. Thank you to Ted Johnson and his team at Institute Events for pulling together a major event in one week, to the Working Group volunteers and many facilitators serving today, and to Kirk Kolenbrander, Alyce Johnson, Abigail Francis, and La-Tarri Canty, Kester Barrow, and DiOnetta Crayton. Please join me in thanking them.

Finally, we invite you to a post-event time for prayer and reflection with Chaplain Andrew Innocent in room 491 upstairs, where you can decompress and contribute to an art project, Thoughts from the Heart.

Now it is my pleasure to introduce MIT Area Director Kester Barrow, who will offer some important framing of today’s conversations.

 

See the Full Program page:

A Community Dialogue Responding to Recent Tragedies, July 13, 2016