I ended last week thinking about the concept of togetherness. It started Monday when Dr. Deborah Deas, the new dean of UC Riverside’s School of Medicine, concluded her remarks to an audience full of community members with a call to action and the admonishment that “we” have to work together to serve the medically-underserved. “If you want to go fast, go alone,” she said, “If you want to go far, go together.” I quickly scribbled down the quote. I appreciated the sentiment.
Four days later and four hundred miles away I sat with almost four thousand others in the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium celebrating McClatchy High School’s graduation. My niece Kennedy was among the graduating class. Kicking-off the litany of commencement speeches was California’s State Superintendent Tom Torlakson. His topic was teamwork, much like Dr. Deas earlier that week who had asked us to consider how much more we can accomplish if we work as a collective instead of individuals. His final words mirrored hers, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I scribbled the adage down again, then circled the words almost as a silent acknowledgement of its meaning.
At the time, I was thinking about graduations, and looking at the myriad of families – including ours – rallying around the recent graduates, taking not only pride in their academic accomplishments, but taking ownership to some degree in their successes, believing that our sacrifices – large or small – or our encouraging words – no matter how many or few – made the biggest difference. The theme of togetherness was definitely top of mind when I heard the news of the massacre at the Pulse LGBT Nightclub in Orlando. I was heading to the airport during Sunday’s dark morning hours when I heard the first reports that there were mass casualties in another shooting in another one of our communities. By the time I landed in Denver the number reported dead was at 20. And by the time I arrived in Ohio, my final destination, the number was at 50.
Regardless of the motive, I knew the incident would be used as another example of our need for gun control, or immigration reform, or to defeat terrorism, or find improvements in mental health services…or…or…or. I knew for some, like Donald Trump, it would be an opportunity to spew more divisive rhetoric and make even more insane insinuations about immigrants and Muslims, which he did. Once the horrific incident was identified as the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, I knew it would be an opportunity for others to address historical inaccuracies and omissions, and I read post after post on social media of other hate crimes in American history where groups were terrorized by their fellow Americans and killed by the hundreds: Wounded Knee, Tulsa Race Riots, Rosewood, and others.
But it was the words of Billy Manes, editor of Watermark, the voice of West Florida’s LGBT community, that resonated the most and returned me to the importance of togetherness if we are to go further as a model of democracy and freedom for others to follow: The loss is unspeakable.
But the community is strong.
We will survive, and so we must speak.
We are a family. We will take our broken strands and weave them together, creating an even stronger tapestry of courage and life.
Our enduring story will not be a tragedy. The world will see our community, the care we have for each other, and how we draw strength from that love. Our story will be one of survival, and hope, and PRIDE.