On June 6, Rev. Ebony Grisom (left) and Matt Hall (right) led a contingent of Campus Ministry staff to protest the murder of George Floyd and systemic racism. Here they share their conversation about what lead them to organize their colleagues, their thoughts on racial justice and systemic racism, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Reflecting on our day together memorializing George Floyd and declaring that Black Lives Matter, four prominent themes emerged: pilgrimage, community, hospitality, and witnessing.
Our journey was born in the wake of our office’s statement in response to this current iteration of police brutality and anti-Black violence. We had attended protests previously but thought attending with our colleagues would allow us to embody our words with deeds.
The afternoon of the protest, we met our colleagues in Dahlgren Quad. Initially, we planned to drive or rideshare to the protest. Yet, we felt the Spirit leading us to walk instead. What could have been a short trip to Capitol Hill became a deliberate pilgrimage and, after Fr. Greg Schenden, SJ led us in prayer we were on our way. Some folks met us in the Quad to wish us off (and provide refreshments!); others walked partway before returning home; still others trekked the whole seven-mile round trip.
As pilgrims do, there were times where our group all walked together and times where some drifted farther ahead or farther back. When we did get separated, those in front would wait, or even retrace their steps, to reconnect with those from whom they had been separated. Each of us continued walking, embodying what our theology teaches as we prayed with our feet for an end to racism and police violence.
An amazing thread throughout the journey was the sense of community. Our Campus Ministry cohort formed a small community, certainly, but along the way, our group grew as we added friends, met strangers, came upon other Georgetown students and staff, and joined in solidarity with more than ten thousand others to say that our faiths are not passive, our faiths do not sanction violence, and our faiths teach that all people are made in the image of God and deserve the dignity that this accords.
Contrary to baseless partisan depictions of the D.C. protests as unruly, we were constantly amazed at the positivity, hospitality, and generosity found all throughout the day. Every couple of blocks, people were handing out free water bottles, Gatorade, chips, or granola bars. Law students distributed pamphlets outlining protestors’ rights. Social workers had set up tents to talk to passersby. Some people gave out face masks to help mitigate COVID risks. There were boxes full of hand-written thank you letters and messages of support from anonymous folks who perhaps couldn’t attend themselves. We passed a spot where you could make yourself a protest sign. A group of drummers was performing, and people danced to the beat. The rector of Saint John’s Episcopal Church (site of the president’s now-infamous photo op just five days prior) was outside in his collar, praying with protestors and passing out water. In short, this was “We, the people,” or perhaps even we, the Body of Christ, creating a microcosm of the beloved community that we long to see, where the hungry are fed, the thirsty are slaked, the sick are cared for, the gifts of all can be celebrated, and the evil of racism is pulled down.
Finally, we came to bear witness to our (Christian) faith: racism is antithetical to the Gospel. We also came to witness this historic moment in time when we as a nation say that we cannot wait any longer to dismantle racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness. As people of faith, as inheritors of Georgetown’s Jesuit tradition, we have a responsibility to be women and men for others. This includes celebrating our diversity, putting theological contemplation into pro-social action, recognizing the unique gifts and challenges of our black and brown neighbors, and doing justice, all for the greater glory of God. We cannot stand idly by while others continue to cry out, “How long, O Lord?” So we journeyed both to witness and participate in the movement for Black lives and to be a witness to the love God has for all God’s black and brown children. This was protest as testimony.
This is not the end of our journey, but it was certainly a memorable, inspiring, and encouraging milestone.
Rev. Ebony Grisom is a Protestant chaplain at Georgetown’s Law Center and Main Campus.
Matt Hall is the associate director for Residential Ministry on the Main Campus.