A Letter from Bryan: Walking the Difficult Path Towards Love

Head of School Bryan Garman

Dear Friends,

As the nation began to process the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the victim’s grace-filled mother, Julia Jackson, courageously called for peace, prayed for healing, and implored everyone “to take a moment and examine your heart.” “How much can a heart hold?” asked a teacher Thursday morning. The pandemic, economic crisis, harsh political rhetoric, wildfires, and hurricanes compete for the space that remains. The grief, outrage, exhaustion, and powerlessness wrought by this moment remind us why we need to create a loving and anti-racist community at Sidwell Friends, one that works collaboratively to face the year with hope, compassion, purpose, and determination.

Our hearts ache and cannot heal alone. In his “Politics of the Brokenhearted,” Parker Palmer contrasts heartbreak with a “heart broken open,” one that cleaves beneath the pressure of life-altering circumstances: “Who among us has not seen evidence, in our own or other people’s lives, that compassion and grace can be the fruits of great suffering? Here heartbreak becomes a source of healing.” During such moments, Palmer suggests, we must make “space within and around ourselves so that conflict and confusion can settle and a deeper wisdom emerge.” 

Together we must find wisdom and act upon it. As I write these words, I hear Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching about “the fierce urgency of now,” insisting that “justice deferred is justice denied,” reminding us that only love can drive out hate. Times like these test our faith, and we must prevent one another from yielding to despair. We must renounce police brutality and call for swift reform. As federal troops are deployed to control protests, we must be vigilant about the emergence of a police state. After the manner of Friends, we must summon the energy to commit to purposeful, nonviolent action and address racism in all of its forms.

In this Quaker Notes, Natalie Randolph ’98 describes the steps we are taking to create a more just and equitable community. An alumna of the School, she is a remarkable ambassador for and exemplar of Friends education. I have complete confidence in her leadership and learn from her every day. Thanks to her efforts, we will continue to move ahead, weaving Ibram X. Kendi’s definition of anti-racism into a student-centered approach to equity. Additionally, next week, we will announce details regarding an important partnership with Howard University, which has been three years in the making.

Out of fatigue, we might like to avert our eyes from the Blake shooting. Black Americans do not have that option. The pain is too deep, the conversations with children too real. Imagine what might emerge in our hearts if we could unburden ourselves from other worries and focus on the impact of this wretched event. What could we achieve if all of us, regardless of race and in observance of our shared humanity, reckoned deeply with the utter breach of morality that it is? 

If we want our hearts to heal, we must entertain such queries; otherwise our hearts will ossify. Certainly, economic structures built upon racism will inform our answers. “The worship of money,” writes bell hooks, “leads to a hardening of the heart,” and “can lead any of us to condone either actively or passively, the exploitation and dehumanization of ourselves and others.” Has avarice so deeply fragmented and privatized our lives that we have grown indifferent to suffering so long as it does not touch us directly? How then will we care for our community? How can we support students, colleagues, and parents who see bodies that look like theirs destroyed with impunity?

Perhaps it is naive to pursue this path in a city grounded in power politics. I hope not. Because to heal our hearts we need to re-engage deeply with the fundamental question of what it means to be human, what it means to act with love and compassion. 

“The transformative power of love is not fully embraced in our society,” observes bell hooks. “In a world anguished by rampant destruction, fear prevails. When we love, we no longer allow our hearts to be held captive by fear ... We cannot know love if we remain unable to surrender our attachment to power, if any feeling of vulnerability strikes fear in our hearts. Lovelessness torments.” Do we have the courage to surrender our attachment to power? Are we willing to understand that racism and other socially constructed hierarchies have exploited their victims and truncated the humanity of those who benefit from them?  

If these questions resonate, I recommend visiting The AntiRacist Table, a powerful and inspiring resource. If your children are old enough, consider completing their 30-Day Challenge. We won’t feel the world change tomorrow, but this kind of work restores hope and deepens understanding. If we approach the challenge with an open mind and open heart, a way might open to transform consciousness and build an anti-racist future.

Our hearts are too heavy. But if we keep our eyes on the larger prizes of equality and justice, if we help one another carry our burdens, we can lighten the load and make space for the transformative power of love. Broken as our hearts might be, let’s open them to one another and try what love can do for our children and the world. 

In peace and with humility,