The Silver Lining

Bishop Laurie Haller

9/11/2017

He’s a black high school quarterback.

5 of his teammates were pictured in white hoods. It may get worse.

(Headline from Des Moines RegisterSaturday, September 9, 2017)

Last Wednesday, a photo on social media went viral. The photo shows five people with pointed hoods over their heads, resembling the Ku Klux Klan. Three of the people are wearing white T-shirts while another is shirtless. Two have their arms raised while a third appears to be holding a firearm. They are standing around a burning cross, and one person is waving a Confederate flag.

All five individuals are white and are on the Creston/Orient-Macksburg football team in Creston, a small, mostly white county seat town in southwest Iowa. The team’s quarterback is sixteen-year-old junior Kylan Smallwood, a football and basketball star who is African-American. After Creston Community High School administrators learned of the incident on Wednesday, football coach Brian Morrison dismissed the five teenagers from the team.

In an interview with reporter Kyle Munson from the Des Moines Register, Smallwood said, “I would see that kind of stuff like Charlottesville and think that’s pretty messed up… I never thought that would happen to our small town… I don’t want to be playing with kids like that… I thought these guys are my friends. I’ve been to some of their houses before. I’ve talked to them.”

Smallwood’s parents, Robert, who is African-American, and Danielle, who is white and was born and raised in Creston, decided to make their home and raise their family in Creston because it was a small, friendly Iowa town. Robert is a mail carrier and is very visible around town. Coming so soon after Charlottesville and the removal of Confederate statues, Danielle is choosing to be positive and grace-filled. “That’s the silver lining, I could say, about this whole situation,” Danielle said, “is how much our town has come together.”

While some believe the five students should be expelled from school, Danielle, says, “I think they should have to go and look at all the high school kids that they have hurt,” she said. “Whether they’re black, white, whatever, they hurt a lot of people, and I think they should have to go back and face that.”

In the face of possible litigation, an attorney for the Creston Community School District, Kristy M. Latta, issued the following statement last Friday, “The Creston Community School District is committed to providing a positive and respectful learning environment for students. As an educational institution, we strive to promote civil discourse and tolerance for differing views. However, when there is a substantial disruption of or material interference with the learning environment, it is appropriate for the District to take responsive action. We are hopeful that everyone can learn from this situation as we continue working to provide our students the best educational opportunities we can.”

Meanwhile, Jamie and Megan Travis identified one of the five individuals in the photo as their son and courageously issued this statement to the Creston News Advisor newspaper on Friday, “On behalf of the Travis Family, we sincerely apologize for the hurt and strife we have caused this community. We do not condone the behavior that was expressed in the recent photo that was disseminated throughout various media sources.

“We understand that our son has conducted himself in a way that is inappropriate and has caused disruption in the community. Our son recognizes his poor judgment and respectfully asks forgiveness from his classmates, the school and the community. The photo in no way reflects our family values. Our family strongly believes that all individuals are created equally in God’s eyes.

“We support Mr. Messerole, Mr. Morrison, the school board and other school officials as they impose the appropriate punishments on our son, including removing him from the football team. Additionally, we support the school as they educate our son and his classmates in helping them understand cultural diversity. As a family we have also taken measures to ensure that our son understands his actions and how they affect others.

“Our goal is a peaceful resolution. We want to move forward and embrace our community in eliminating racism in Creston.”

During this time of year, when high school, college, and professional football is an important part of our country’s culture, this unfortunate incident reminds us that a primary purpose of school sports is to build character. We are not done with racism, even in Iowa. What can we learn from Creston?

  1. We start by confessing our own sin, which includes all of us. White supremacy is a sin and has no place in football or anywhere else.
  2. By taking racism seriously, we teach our children that the symbols found in this photo have perpetuated hate and bigotry for too many years and that there must be zero tolerance in our country for prejudice in any form.
  3. We combat racism by modeling respect, tolerance, and inclusiveness in our own attitudes, actions, and words.
  4. We must have the courage to speak out whenever we see injustice or oppression.
  5. At the same time as we hold each other accountable for racist acts and words, we are also called to show grace, knowing that God continually calls us to learn and gain wisdom from our mistakes.
  6. By standing with those who are the victims of racism, we communicate support, solidarity, and the conviction that those who demonstrate racist behavior are in the minority.
  7. Every church can find a way to address racism in their community and congregation. This could involve sponsoring workshops around racism or cross-cultural competency, partnering with churches of different ethnicities, or participating together in a mission or outreach project.
  8. We need to ask God to continually open our eyes to the beauty of diversity in our world and celebrate the uniqueness and potential that is within each individual.

The silver lining? Creston Community High School, area churches, and the town itself are filled with good people who are ready to become proactive in moving forward. “Even though this could happen anywhere, it happened here,” principal Bill Messerole said, “So we’ve got to own this and move on in a positive way.”

Yesterday, Creston First UMC Pastor Jodi Rushing shared a statement with the congregation, part of which said, “My hope is that these boys will understand the significance of what they have done and understand the ramifications of their actions and have the wisdom to make amends… Hatred is not something we are born with. It is something that we learn. Our own actions speak loudly to children and teens, and I hope as a church and community, we can share love instead of hatred toward all those who are different than us.”

On Friday night Creston/OM played at Harlan. Before the game, the Harlan band faced the Creston fans and played part of their fight songs. Everyone clapped. Harlan won the game, 42-7, but there was no trash talking, only cheers.


 

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