Jacksonville Shootings and MLK’s “I Have a Dream”

A message to the Saint Mary's Community

by Brother Thomas Jones, Frances Sweeney, and María Luisa Ruiz | August 29, 2023

The events of this past weekend in which three individuals in Jacksonville, Florida, were gunned down simply because they were Black moves us to respond for these families and to address its impact for our Saint Mary’s College community. We support and stand with all victims of gun violence and keep them and their families in our prayers.

Though this tragedy occurred 3,000 miles away, the horrifying reality that individuals would be targeted because of their skin color, because a person consumed with bigotry has access to destructive weapons, deeply saddens us. 

The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed that one day all of us could celebrate our connection as sisters and brothers. But because our society has not yet come to heed his beautiful words, we are motivated to publicly call on our community to accept and embrace Dr. King’s unifying vision.

The sadness of the events on Saturday is magnified by the fact that they coincided with the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Both the speech and the March itself were defining moments in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans. 

A racist, hate-filled individual chose this occasion to unleash senseless violence that now leaves families and an entire community mourning and in despair. As our hearts ache for the victims and those most impacted, this is an occasion to remind ourselves of the fundamentals of our community, a community that publicly declares respect for all persons and does not tolerate bigotry, hatred, or discrimination in any form.

This respect is more than a passive nod to being nice to each other. It involves caring for those who come to us injured or who are personally impacted because they belong to a group that is the target of hatred and prejudice. Recognizing, for example, that our Black sisters and brothers here at Saint Mary’s may be feeling particularly vulnerable or angry or disrespected at this time allows us to occupy spaces with them on our campus where they know they are supported and valued as full participants in the Saint Mary’s College experience.

In addition to the informal exchanges we have with individuals in our community who may be feeling particularly injured by the events in Florida, I remind you that individuals can be directed to our professional counselors in Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), and resources such as the Mission & Ministry Center and the Employee Assistance Program. Students who are in residence on campus can also receive support from their Resident Directors and Resident Advisors. 

The admonition to take care of each other can never be said too loudly or too often. Many times it is in the small gestures of concern and compassion that individuals experience a sense of belonging and communities grow closer to the dream articulated so beautifully by Dr. King 60 years ago this week.

Sincerely and with deep respect for each of you,

Brother Thomas Jones, FSC, Interim President

Frances Sweeney, Vice President for Mission and Professor of Spanish

María Luisa Ruiz, Senior Diversity Officer and Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies