Reflections on Orlando: Finding Connections in Times of Terror

Posted by Jocelyn Stanton on June 15, 2016

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Jocelyn Stanton, a senior associate for program staff development, shares an open letter to the Facing History community as we all mourn together over the recent tragedy in Orlando. 

Friends, community members, teachers and students,

It's difficult to find ourselves writing to you again. Over the last year, we've reached out to you after incidents of violence in our country, some labeled as terrorism, others hate crimes, and still others yet to be defined. We mourn with all of you, and we are overwhelmed with sadness by these events.  

We know some of you look to us, as an international education organization, to provide words of hope during these times, or even strategies to help our teachers and students make sense of the world today. While we do have ideas to share, we also want to acknowledge that there is nothing we can do or say to rationalize these acts. We call upon our work with identity and membership, and our case studies of "us and them," and we recognize that these events are horrific examples of labels being used to view some as unworthy of life, liberty and happiness, the hallmark of our democracy. 

We're called Facing History and Ourselves, and when our teachers use our pedagogy, they ask students, over and over again, to think about their choices. We do this partially by showing students that history was not inevitable, but a series of choices by individuals, groups, and nations, and that even today, the choices we make are creating a history yet to be written.

I wonder how this time period will be represented in the history books to come. Will it be known as the age of terror? Will students in the future read about the gun violence that plagues our nation? Or will they remember the early 2000s as a time of freedoms, of civil rights being sought and won, of historic presidential candidates and nominees?

It's hard to look at today and answer that question. But what we do want our students to recognize is that every choice they make today is creating history for tomorrow. Some choices will feel momentous, like casting a vote in the presidential election. Others, while less concrete, will be equally important; how we respond to crisis, when we choose to help a neighbor, if we take time to deconstruct our news sources, how we react when hearing slurs and labels used to define others; these choices will matter.

Where do we go from here? I find myself standing in lines at the grocery store or walking down the sidewalk, and desperately wanting to start conversations with people. Not to talk about Orlando or the presidential race, but just to connect. We need to connect. We need each other. 

Our democracy depends on many things, but perhaps beyond the institutions and documents, it depends on our ability to take time to listen to each other.  

To that end, we invite you to share with us your thoughts; we're here to listen. We also invite you to connect and to encourage acts of conversation, of listening, in your own communities. 

Topics: global terrorism

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Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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