Where were you on March 21, 2005?
I'm guessing you may not remember. After all, unlike September 11, this is not a date etched in our collective national memory. It is, however, a date on which another tragedy occurred.
On March 21, 2005, a 16-year old high school student killed his grandparents before proceeding to kill seven people at the high school on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. He then killed himself.
Unlike Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook, until I arrived at the Red Lake Indian Reservation for my high school ministry's recent summer mission trip, I had never heard about this tragedy. The same was also true of the 27 other participants on my mission trip team.
The question is why? In an era of 24-7 news coverage, why do we not know Red Lake in the same way we know the other tragedies of our time?
This is a question our mission team pondered at the end of our trip, as we sat around a campfire processing it. Eventually, it led to a phenomenal conversation about racism during which we discussed the origins of racism, whether or not it's acceptable under any circumstance, and what, if any, prejudices our week on the reservation exposed in our own hearts. We then talked about what our faith says about racism and how we can work to tear down walls and overcome it.
It was an incredible conversation that lasted well over two hours, engaged everyone, and represented a multitude of different ideas and viewpoints. It was, for me, the most significant moment of our mission trip – the moment that made all of the planning, fundraising, and effort worth while. It was a moment in which I felt as though I was watching the faith and worldview of my students being formed before my very eyes.
It's a moment I believe will have lasting consequences in the lives of my students by challenging them (and me!) to take a stand against racism.
While it may take experiencing life through the perspective of another, oppressed people during a week on an Indian Reservation to prompt the kind of conversation we had at the end of our trip, prejudice, racial biases, and racism are not problems that exist only on the reservation. Rather, they are injustices that occur in every community.
Thanks to my group's experience on the Red Lake Reservation, these are, I believe, injustices that my students will be far less likely to tolerate than they did before this experience.
I can't help but wonder how an experience 1000 miles from home will influence how my students treat Muslim students scorned and mocked by others at their school, refugee kids they encounter in their neighborhood, or the homeless families they see by the train station.
I believe that because of our week in Red Lake and our conversation about racism, my students will be beacons of hope and good news to those whose everyday stories and experiences are shaped by prejudice and racism. I trust that they will take seriously their responsibility to take a stand and be ambassadors for Christ who engage in the ministry of reconciliation and challenge others to do the same.
May it be so.
This post was written as part of She Loves July Link-Up on the theme "Stand".