Let Us Not Stand Silent

By Tom Wilschutz, Head of School
Head of School at Desk

My God, has nothing changed?

I am a child of the 1960s. I vividly remember watching the riots in Detroit and so many other cities in 1967 and ‘68. I was young then and didn’t fully comprehend what I was watching, but every night I watched as city after city self-immolated, poor neighborhoods and black neighborhoods disintegrated. I listened as Bobby Kennedy tried to find some words of wisdom to share at the death of Martin Luther King Jr. I was devastated. And then I was devastated the morning I awoke to read of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination. And now this, another black man murdered by someone sworn to protect us...all of us, not just those who happen to be white. 

Fifty plus years later, I would like to think that we have made progress. That we are a society that is more tolerant, more accepting, more loving, more inclusive, and then I watch again the death of George Floyd and I wonder. But I do have hope. And I have fear. 

The hope...communities like Solebury School are populating the planet. Our young people are more accepting, more inclusive, more loving than any generation in our history. Look at us. In one of the least diverse counties in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania sits Solebury—a remarkably diverse, accepting, inclusive community—proud of who and what we are. We are not an accident. Who and what we are is intentional. Solebury School has long understood what must be valued for all people to be happy and healthy and prosperous. 

If that is my hope, this is my fear- we must hold each other accountable, and that takes courage. There were at least three other police officers who were present when George Floyd was murdered. Any one of them could have stepped in, taken control, and prevented his death. But, they stood...silent. The silence in Minneapolis, the silence in Mei Lei in 1968 when American Troops massacred innocent civilians during the Vietnam War, the silence in Nazi Germany in the 1930s as good people stood by while Hitler came to power. The power of silence in the face of evil is greater than the power of good and hope. 

As educators have we instilled courage in our students? Have we equipped them with the strength, the resolve, the steadfastness to find their voice, to confront evil, to call it out? Have we given them the courage to confront their fellow citizens and say "you’re wrong, and here’s why?” There needs to be dialogue, not labeling. We need to confront racism and intolerance and hatred. We need to hold each other accountable. No one can do that for us. This effort happens on the ground, day by day, incident by incident, every day. 

We are about to send another 62 graduates of Solebury School out into the world of...a pandemic, a world of racial strife, a world of political instability, a world that desperately needs not silence, but for good people to step up and find their voice. 

I do have hope. I also believe victory hangs in the balance. We get to choose. Each of us needs to conclude that remaining silent is not the path forward to achieving the society we desire. I close with a Toni Morrison quote shared with me by one of our teachers,

“Crude and crass as most of it is and, really, uniformed as almost all of it is, the discourse about race is important. But the real conversation should take place among white people. They should talk to each other about that. Not with me. I can’t be the doctor and the patient.”

Let’s join hands and see if, together, we can talk, hold each other accountable, and find real progress such that someone who vividly remembers the 1960s no longer questions whether real progress has been made.