Choosing Magis

Jeremiah Pennebaker
July 25, 2018

I am a proud two-time graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, both with a B.A. and a Master’s degree. Like many, college was a very formative time in my life. I met great people and made close friends. While Jesuit ideals and values were something completely foreign to me a few years ago, it was something that had been instilled within me since the first day I stepped on campus. My Jesuit education at Xavier has pushed me to be more reflective and better discern where my talents and efforts are most needed. It was at Xavier where I learned to walk alongside those who I struggle with and those with different struggles. I built relationships with people in multiple marginalized communities and if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have the depth and understanding of injustices that they face.

It was at Xavier that I learned the values of engaging the uniqueness and wholeness of each person. I realized that I couldn’t just acknowledge the part of my friends that I relate to. I needed to be able to accept them for their entire identity. Because of my relationships with them, I recognized how they had often hid or toned-down parts of themselves when they stepped out in public. But because of my education and immersion into Jesuit values I realized that this was not the greatest good God had intended for them. There was more of themselves that was being unjustly hidden from the world, and that my alma mater needed to do more work to better live up to its own ideals.

For me to invest time, energy, and finances to this institution for 4+ years and not hold it accountable to the values that it taught me would be reckless and irresponsible on my part. So I knew that I had to push it to do more, to live up to its values of cura personalis: of caring for the whole person mind, body, and spirit. My Xavier experience wasn’t terrible; It wasn’t filled with discrimination, I didn’t have teachers who refused to help me, and I wasn’t forced to use segregated facilities. But that doesn’t mean that my experience wasn’t without hardship—particularly related to my identity. And it doesn’t mean that I should settle for the standard of “at least you get to go to a good school.” So we pushed for our alma mater to do more work around racial justice on campus, we asked for it to recognize and grapple with its history of human bondage, we pushed for a more comprehensive effort to create a culture of racial equity on campus.

As my time here at NETWORK comes to a close, I’m once again in a space of reflection and discernment. I’m trying to figure out my next steps and trying to figure out if I took the right ones while I was here. I’m once again asking myself if I pushed NETWORK enough, if I did my part in asking them to do more and holding them to the standards they set for themselves. How can we become an anti-racist institution? How can we move away from tokenization of people of color and towards empowerment of people of color? What is the more that we need to do to not be complacent as another White-ally organization? I would hope that I did my part in pushing this organization to do and be more.

Asking and pushing for more than what’s been afforded to us is what is needed in this complacent and complicit country. As a Black person I need more than good white people who wear pussy hats and safety pins, and who can recite Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes. I need people who are serious about dismantling white supremacy and racist institutions. I need people who are willing to fully grapple with what it means to divest from white supremacy and invest (physically, mentally, and financially) in full reparative practices. As a tax-paying American citizen, I need more than politicians who simply identify as democrats. I need more than representatives who justify their political affiliation by claiming at least they’re not a Nazi. I need Members of Congress who are willing to push for real policy solutions that will protect the most vulnerable in our society. This means validating those who are undocumented. Aiding those who work 40+ hours a week and can’t make ends meet. It means reinstating those who’ve had their rights stripped away because of racist, sexist, homophobic etc. laws. It means protecting those who face state violence on a daily basis. As a country we need more than just equality, we need full comprehensive equity.

We need to push for more, and not just accept what has been placed in front of us. Complacency and complicity have brought us to where we are now.  We have a government filled with white supremacists. Children are being stripped from parents and placed in detention camps. State officials are raiding communities and dragging people from their homes. I don’t believe in being either complacent or complicit in that. Especially in a country that I was taught is built on the ideals of liberty and justice for all. For me to invest my time, energy, and finances into this country, it would be reckless and irresponsible for me to accept anything less than what I was told I would receive – and same thing goes for you, too.