Episcopal Bishop Carlye Hughes: A lament and a challenge in the wake of the shooting of Atatiana Jefferson

Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, who was raised in Fort Worth, Texas, joins Fort Worth Bishop Scott Mayer in fully endorsing the following statement by Bishop Carlye Hughes of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, which was published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Friday, October 18, 2019. Hughes, who grew up in Fort Worth, is the first woman and the first African-American to serve as Bishop of Newark. Prior to her election as bishop of Newark in 2018, she became the first woman and the first African American to be rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth in 2013.

Most of us will know Atatiana Jefferson only by secondary means. Her family and friends speak eloquently of her love of life and family and her hopes for the future. But they should not be alone in ensuring her life will hold as much significance as her death. This is a task facing all of us.

Her death is a monumental failure of the whole community. No amount of arrests, prosecution, sentencing, and sorrow will bring Atatiana Jefferson back, but still, her life can have great meaning to this city, if all Fort Worth citizens seize the opportunity to make her life and memory count.

I grew up in Fort Worth. While I had a vague sense of segregation in our city as a child, it was with getting my driver’s license that I understood the full social, economic, and career impact of segregation and I wanted no part of it. I knew by age sixteen I would leave.

My family lives and works in Fort Worth. I visit often. Moving away was not a matter of not liking the city. It was the certain knowledge that if I lived here, I would live a compartmentalized life, without the life-giving interweaving of race, gender, nationality, and sexual preference that to me seemed to be the way God created the world and my life.

Moving back thirty years later was unexpected. I was delighted to return to my family and to serve at Trinity Episcopal Church. I had high hopes that three decades had changed how segregated lives are in Fort Worth, but I was quickly disappointed to see that segregation clings so heavily to every part of life in my hometown.

Segregation is not just wrong, it is dangerous. Living, working, being only with our own kind of people leaves us disconnected from the lives of others. That disconnect has allowed the growth in hate groups and hate crimes across this country, keeps us from hearing the concerns of those whose fear of police has grown intensely since 2016, and allows some to think there is no problem because they themselves do not have to worry about personal safety.

For close to three years now the African-American community in Fort Worth has, with great energy and intensity and increasing urgency, expressed heightened concern about the growing levels of dangerous policing.

The majority of this city has chosen not to listen. Those who want to think of Fort Worth as a small town rather than a city of close to one million chose not to listen. Those who thought the problems could be ignored or prayed away chose not to listen. Those who are tired of talking about race chose not to listen.

Elected officials can be held accountable, but they cannot be the sole listeners for the whole community. If the people of Fort Worth desire a safe life for each person in the city, then elected officials will act accordingly. Ultimately the people of Fort Worth hold the power to change the factors that contributed to this tragedy.

My colleagues and friends Scott Mayer, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, and Dede Duncan-Probe, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, share my hometown with me. We all hold this city daily in our hearts and prayers. But we also urge every citizen of Fort Worth to let go of resistance to listening to what is hard to hear.

We urge every citizen to work to shape Fort Worth into a city where people live, work, study, socialize routinely across all boundaries that separate the city now. We challenge us all to imagine a Fort Worth where everyone is safe driving to school or work, shopping, or playing video games at home.

To be clear, this is not solely a race issue. This is an issue of the shared humanity of our whole community. It will take all of us, working across lines of race, class, and ethnicity, to make sure this city is safe for all people.

Yes, it will be hard work, but it could lead to a historic, memorable, and fitting tribute to Atatiana Jefferson’s short life. Let us begin today.

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