Students And Faith Leaders Must Oppose Racism Together

Students from Pacific University and Lewis and Clark College gathered Monday in protest and solidarity as people of different races, different backgrounds, different faiths and from different schools.

The cause, which brought people together, was the fight against racism. This past week we have witnessed racist statements on social media directed at students at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon (left on the anonymous social media app Yik-Yak). Police are investigating a possible bias crime against a black student at Lewis and Clark.

What has occurred at Lewis and Clark could have just as easily occurred at Pacific University or Willamette University or any school in Oregon on the United States.

Half a century ago or more people with names like Rosa Parks, and Joseph Lowery and Martin Luther King, Jr. set in motion a Civil Rights Movement that would break the back of white supremacy. Schools would be integrated. The right to vote would be extended. But racism did not die.

We see that in places like Ferguson, Charleston, and Baltimore but also in places like Portland and Forest Grove, where Pacific University's main campus is located just outside Portland.

We live in a complex time and a difficult world. Still, it is not a time without hope. Hope is born again in the student protests at the University of Missouri and Lewis and Clark where students have once again said that racism must be named and opposed. Students have enormous power to affect change.

Speaking in South Africa during the time of Apartheid, Robert F. Kennedy challenged the youth of the world the led the movement of social change saying:

Our answer is the world's hope; it is to rely on youth. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans. It cannot be moved by those who cling to a present which is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger which comes with even the most peaceful progress.

This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. It is a revolutionary world we live in, and thus, as I have said in Latin America and Asia, in Europe and in the United States, it is young people who must take the lead. Thus you, and your young compatriots everywhere, have had thrust upon you a greater burden of responsibility than any generation that has ever lived.

If it is true that the youth of the 50s and 60s were presented with a great burden, and I believe that to be without question, the youth of the 2000s have an even greater one. The challenges to be confronted included the unfinished business of addressing racial injustice and economic inequality. At the same time, it must be our cause to combat climate change and so much more.

It will take all of us working together in common cause. We are now looking to the generation of students gathered on campuses today for new energy and new leadership. Thankfully, students are stepping up across America and being counted.

Students should not feel alone, however. There is much work to be done but we can make progress together. Hope is about changing the conditions in which we live. And I have hope that students, universities, faith communities and local and national leaders can bring about change as has happened before.

Faith leaders, as much as students, need to come out from behind pulpits and get into the streets. Don't believe that is possible? Look at Ferguson where faith leaders and young people worked together for the cause of justice.