Dear Turnaround Family,
The horrifying and deeply disturbing events in Charlottesville have now been combined with a public response that turns its back on the values our country has fought for and defined to the world. Our battles against intolerance and bigotry have been far from perfect, yet over the centuries since our founding, our efforts have bent toward justice. This is because so many of us stand up and denounce racism. We must continue to do so, in our lives and in our work, every day.
Where does hatred like the venom we saw in Charlottesville begin? As a child psychiatrist and as the leader of Turnaround for Children, I have worked with children who have known trauma, including trauma from racism and racial violence. We know that when people are thought of as “other,” we can lose connection to our shared humanity and in the process, our capacity for empathy. Often, when people commit heinous acts, they have ceased to see others as part of their shared human family. Rather, they see others as threats to their stability and dominance.
One of the most striking things I saw as the events unfolded was an interview with a college student who identified as a white supremacist. He was holding a torch and speaking with fierceness and rage about the country he intended to take back. I wondered when his rage began, and how it became focused on people of color and followers of other religions. I thought about whether he saw and heard this as a child — in the media, in his schools and his community. It made me think about the people who receive messages like these — children, who see themselves depicted as unworthy and undeserving of justice, fairness and equal opportunity. I think about our students in our communities, and how it feels to grow up exposed to messages like these, as a target of so much hatred and prejudice.
This made me think of what we can do to strengthen ourselves and our students against racism. I think of how our Turnaround community can stand up for actions built on understanding and empathy — actions that cause barriers to fall, and safety and trust to rise. As an organization, we understand that the social, emotional and physical contexts that students are exposed to will shape their identities. We study the science of human development; we understand what these experiences mean to the development of children. Therefore, we cannot ignore the context of racism, prejudice and hatred that becomes the lived experience for our children and their families.
As we continue to reflect on the significance of the events in Charlottesville, let us think about how we can redouble our own efforts to act against intolerance. Turnaround will honor its core values by being an organization that forcefully and deliberately stands up against the deeply uncomfortable truth embedded in this tragedy.
We can do more, and we will.
Pamela Cantor, M.D.
President and CEO