Last Saturday morning, I woke to a missed phone call from the Wake (Forest University) Alert system. The message informed me that late Friday night, an altercation occurred involving several individuals at The Barn, a student-centered social space on campus. A shooting took place resulting in the death of 21-year-old Najee Ali Baker, a student at Winston-Salem State University.
A lot has been said.
A lot has been written.
Suspects were identified, some apprehended and at least one still being sought.
Candles were lit and a vigil held.
According to the NY Times article that makes 11 school shootings just this year.
And now, as we enter into a space between the tears and the next shots fired, I’m waiting on number 12.
Let me say right here and right now what needs to be said, “We the people of the United States have a problem.” Naturally, this leads those of us who call this nation home to ask questions, none more important than, “What the hell is wrong with us?”
Call it shared selective hearing, or as Dr. Michael Eric Dyson suggested this past week when he visited the campus of WFU, America suffers from a form of amnesia; we forget easily and move on too soon. This could be applied to many different issues our nation faces today, but most certainly surrounding all issues relating to the trigger word “guns.”
I don’t think I need to rehash stances people and political parties have taken on the issue. Whether you view guns and gun laws as constitutional rights or as a new form of idolatry, both stances stem from “gun culture” in the United States. You can say you support the 2nd Amendment and produce a small arsenal in your home to prove it, or you can beat guns into plows like Shane Claiborne and company. What you cannot do is escape into a place where gun culture doesn’t exist.
I grew up as part of a culture being in the South; a culture full of atrocities and virtues for me to identify with and be shaped by. A culture producing some of the finest manifestations of art, literature, and music in the world today, and yet too often, we’ve historically chosen to be identified differently. You see any culture worth its salt produces a “collective achievement”, and personally, I just don’t see “guns” falling into that category. Sure, guns provide home protection and produce wild game for those so inclined, but a gun should never be lumped into the same category as the writings of Flannery O'Connor, the art of Mose Tolliver, and the music of Hank Williams.
There are two kinds of “cold chills” in this world. One I’ve experienced is the heart-wrenching sounds of Appalachian fiddle and banjo depicting love, loss, and hope around a campfire. The other, late night phone calls from university officials informing all to lock their doors and stay inside. One resonates and inspires, the other makes me wonder why someone needs a pistol to attend a college party?
We as a diverse nation need to ask ourselves what “cold chills” we want to experience. We need to ask ourselves what kind of culture we want to create and pass down. We need to realize and own our failure. We need to raze the gun culture we’ve allowed to consume us, and bring forward a new culture where carrying your heart on your sleeve is desired more than what you can conceal and carry.