Uvalde, Texas, a city of 16,000, sits 79 miles due west of the office in which I sit writing this newsletter. At this precise moment, Uvalde is the scene of the latest mass shooting, the second worst school massacre in US history. I feel darkly certain, however, that by the time this July issue of YouthCUE has gone through proofing, design, production, printing, and mailing, there will be at least another mass shooting or two … or three … to capture the headlines and keep the news outlets busy moving their satellite trucks to the next media frenzy.
Sutherland Springs, population 600, the site of Texas’s worst church shooting, sits only 39 miles to the east of my office. Twenty-six were killed that Sunday morning and 22 were wounded, many with life-will-never-be-the-same-again injuries.
When Sutherland Springs happened on November 5, 2017, our then robust San Antonio Youth Chorale immediately began developing plans for a fundraising concert to help the victims. We hired a professional chamber orchestra, brushed up our repertoire and, with only two weeks’ notice, put together a concert on November 19 that raised just over $20,000 to aid the victims and their families.
Although honored to do what we can to help healing happen in our surrounding communities which are hurting so badly, I have to say that I resonate with the emotions of Golden State Warriors coach, Steve Kerr. The day of Uvalde, in the middle of Golden State’s NBA playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Kerr gently told those gathered for the pregame press conference that he was not going to talk about basketball … “not today.” He remained calm and collected for several moments as he spoke with a clear headed and resonant voice about what had happened in Uvalde that morning. Then suddenly, there was a mild explosion in his demeanor. His eyes suddenly flashed like lightning, and he pounded the table once with his right hand and shouted, “When are we going to DO something?”
And now, in real time, writing this article, I have just had to pause for a couple of minutes to let out some new tears and to, once again, resonate with the sentiments of Steve Kerr, his red eyes deep with tears.
My friends in the YouthCUE network, when ARE we going to DO something about a gun plague as deadly as COVID? Truth is the gun violence could be far more preventable if we’ll have a modicum of common sense and if we are willing to talk to each other – instead of at each other — and learn to work together. As a nation, are we really okay letting this bloodshed of the innocents go on and on and on without so much as a serious conversation about trying to prevent another day of carnage? Are we so politically polarized that even the blood of our children cannot bring us together on this one issue?
Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.
The week since Uvalde has gotten to me like few others. The fourth-grade children with brown skin, black hair, dark eyes, and Hispanic surnames remind me so very much of my classmates when I was in the fourth grade in the township of Lytle, only 65 miles from Uvalde. They were my friends, my classmates, my teammates, my fellow band players, my fellow cast members in one act plays, my debate partners and fellow student council officers. It has taken over fifty years and now Uvalde to make me fully aware of my deep love for my classmates who helped me through childhood and adolescence, who impacted my world view for the better, who were my loyal friends even though I was white and privileged and entitled and protestant and arrogant. God forgive me for not fully celebrating that love and kinship until just this moment. I still keep up with some of these lifelong friends on social media, and I now have a new desire to reconnect and express to them how much I love them, appreciate them, and remember them as children with utter joy and delight.
And the gunman? Eighteen years old was he … YouthCUE age. Younger than the majority of the CUE Choral Ambassadors we are taking to Ireland this month and born the same exact year as the class of 2022 now aging out of our high school programs.
What do you think? Could YouthCUE and a strong local student choir have done anything to keep this young man from becoming a mass murderer? What if we had started him out as a sixth grader singing tenor or alto and helped him develop into a healthy teenager with real hopes, dreams, and aspirations? Sure, this young man needed enormous, blockbusting psychotherapy and mental intervention over the past several years. But what if we had begun with him as a sixth or seventh grader. Would that have made any difference?
You and I know full well the likely answers to those questions. The very things this young man was missing are the gifts we as directors are committed to providing: love, hope, community, faith, friendships, acceptance, peer fun and memorable experiences, hugs of affection, fist bumps, high fives, music fully as beautiful as other components of God’s glorious creation, a dream for a good life, a way serving his community rather than destroying it.
YouthCUE colleagues, our work has arguably never been more difficult than it is right now. I can also say with full confidence that it has never been more crucial than it is in this hour.
God be with us as we continue to offer life-transforming contributions to the students we are privileged to serve … and that’s all of them! Let us lean on one another and become newly committed to doing everything we can for today’s students. This work is so very, very important.