My heart has been heavy this week with the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. It has been difficult to explain to my young children why someone would enter a church, attend a bible study and then murder innocent people because of the color of their skin. Incomprehensible.

Charleston, South Carolina is a city that my family has grown to love. We have spent several summers vacationing in nearby Folly Beach. There is a sense of gentility found in her people that is seldom found elsewhere in our country. The people of Charleston are gracious, caring, laid back, big hearted and welcoming. I can only imagine the words of love and kindness those church goers shared with the gunman before he decided to carry out his act of evil. I am certain GOD was present in that moment even if the outcome was not what we all wanted.

There are so many possible causes to point our fingers at to try and explain why something like this has happened yet again in our country. Racism, gun violence, evil, hate, intolerance, drugs, mental illness, lack of parenting, loss of a sense of community, no sense of belonging, and the list goes on and on. We all have our own opinions as to WHY this has occurred again; but, I wonder if we are truly having the conversations we need to have regarding such violence in our country. I have heard from some that we will never see a solution to these problems in our lifetime. I say be the change you want to see in the world.

Maybe you feel as if this is something that happened “elsewhere” and it really does not have anything to do with your life? I ask you to examine your own thoughts, opinions and heart. What if this had been your loved one who was gunned down in that church? What if one of those 1st graders at Sandy Hook Elementary had been your child, grandchild, loved one? What if your loved one had been in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater? Would you feel differently? Would you just accept it as another act of violence or would you do something about it?

When I was 19, I worked in Connecticut at a summer camp for children and adults with severe disabilities. I sought out this experience on my own in order to test myself to see if I had the ability to work in a positive manner with people who were different than me. Counselors were from the United States and several countries around the world including Ivory Coast, England, Germany, Ireland, and the former Yugoslavia. What I did not realize at the time was how much these individuals would teach me about life, myself and a greater sense of world community. Even though my parents raised me to treat and accept others as I would want to be treated, I still had apprehensions about working and living with people who were completely different than me.

I had a small group of female campers and worked closely with Jerome, a counselor from Africa, who had a small group of male campers. As a 19 year old, I was the same age as one of his campers, Raymond. Raymond was a handsome young man from the Bronx with brown skin and blue eyes. He was 6’0 and was prone to terrible fits of anger due to his Autism. He loved his shiny gold watch and Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. I was the only one who he would allow to hold his watch when he went swimming. Unbeknownst to me, Raymond had been writing his parents about his new friend from Nebraska and how he could not wait for them to meet me. I admittedly was nervous to meet Raymond’s parents because it was such a big deal to him. What I found in that meeting was a loving, caring family who just wanted their son to be accepted even though he faced many challenges. They were from a whole different world (in my mind) yet we found common ground to come together and make the most out of our time together. I am certain Raymond taught me more about life than I ever taught him.

My point in all of this is that we should be willing to re-examine our own thoughts, actions, heart and mind when it comes to meeting and working with others who may be completely different than ourselves. Understanding each other, putting aside our differences in order to be one United States should be our common goal. We must be willing to have the difficult conversations followed with empathy, compassion and action in order to make our own corner of the world a better place to live.

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Lisa Cass

Lisa is a UNK graduate and has spent the last twenty years teaching special education in Kansas and Nebraska schools. She lives in Hastings, Nebraska with her husband Tim, also a UNK graduate and children, Sam, Sophia, Addison, and Ian. Over the years Lisa has served as a respite care worker, tutor and volunteer for the Nebraska Army National Guard Family Readiness group, Special Olympics, UNK Gold Torch Society, and Nebraska Children’s Heart Foundation. She enjoys attending her children’s school events, substitute teaching, and traveling with her husband.