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Sarah Whitman: In the wake of Charlottesville, America must do better

More than 80 people attended an event at St. Patrick Catholic Church aimed at promoting a civil dialogue regarding immigration. The event occurred a day after the outbreak of violence in Charlottesville, Va., created by a clash between white supremacists and counter protesters.
More than 80 people attended an event at St. Patrick Catholic Church aimed at promoting a civil dialogue regarding immigration. The event occurred a day after the outbreak of violence in Charlottesville, Va., created by a clash between white supremacists and counter protesters.
Published Aug. 17, 2017

TAMPA — Charlottesville happened.

Nearly 250 years into our country's story, Americans maintain the right to say and even do what to me (and I pray you), seem like unthinkable things.

I do not question why people can march a campus shouting racial slurs and divisive rhetoric. I question why they chose to do so. For the love of God, why? That is what came to mind when I saw the photographs and read the stories.

Why do so many people take pride in hate? And how do they claim violence in the name of a higher power? I cannot answer these questions. I can however say this: The God I believe in weeps for the broken and humble. The God I believe in loves in spite of. The God I believe in is bigger than politics, flags and malformed attitudes.

America remains a child, born with promise but still learning. In this imperfect world, where people, like lands, rise and fall, we forge ahead as a rebellious prodigy. We can do better. We can be better. But it requires of us something difficult: to put aside the need to be right. It requires unity.

On Aug. 13, the Diocese of St. Petersburg held an event promoting open and civil dialogue regarding immigration. More than 80 people attended the talk at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Tampa. Men and women shared stories of their families coming to the United States. They expressed conflicting opinions without rage.

"When you create a dialogue, it creates empathy," said Sabrina Burton Schultz, Director of Life Ministry for the Diocese. "You can be civil even in disagreement."

The Diocese began planning the event about a year ago. As organizers trained facilitators Aug. 12, they watched the violence erupting in Charlottesville. The conversation became, if possible, even more important, Burton Schultz said.

So how do we move forward? I don't know. The words "the future" are striking at this point. Three years ago, I did not imagine a future where a White Nationalist movement stood emergent from the shadows. I did not imagine an American divided on basic civil rights.

I only know those of us who view the incidents in Charlottesville as inexcusable must exercise our rights as well. We must continue to speak out and unite our voices for the good of our country.

Contact Sarah Whitman at sarahrothwhitman@gmail.com.