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Reveley, Johnson, Melton and Stimpert: ‘Let us teach our children well’

The terrible events this past weekend in Charlottesville have brought sadness, fear and sorrow to many around the nation and here in Farmville. 

Heather Heyer, the young woman senselessly struck down in the street, had many local connections. Lt. Jay Cullen of the Virginia State Police, killed in the helicopter crash Saturday, was the husband of Karen Strawhun Cullen, a 1992 Longwood graduate.

As the leaders of the four leading educational institutions in our community, we feel compelled to respond forcefully and with one voice.

Our young people are watching us and other leaders, and they will take their cues from how we respond. If they see us shrug our shoulders helplessly, they will too.

If they hear us call these events par for the course in a democracy that values free speech, then they will carry that lesson into the lives of citizenship for which it is our duty to prepare them.

So we write today to make clear the very opposite: the hateful ideology spewed by the white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville, and the violence they inspired, are profoundly wrong and must never be normalized. 

These voices must be drowned out by those of decency and reason, and by education itself, which must dissolve the toxic stew of ignorance and fear from which such hatred emerges. 

Our message is this. First, to our students, particularly those experiencing not just sadness but genuine and understandable fear: do not be afraid, and do not despair.

The world today feels especially scary, but you are in a secure place to learn and prepare to make your marks on the world. That time will come for you as it does for every generation — which is precisely why you should not despair.

 For greater Farmville, know that those who lead the institutions that will help shape the next generation are of one voice: bigotry and violence are not acceptable. 

We will encourage students to participate actively in democracy’s vibrant arguments. But they will also hear unwaveringly from us that respect and basic human decency are non-negotiable values — ideals we should be unafraid to insist upon for one and all.

 Lastly, for those both in our community and beyond it, let our history enlighten and inspire. 

One lesson of Farmville’s civil rights history is the terrible price of deluding ourselves that we are somehow not all in this together. But another is that young people can change the world, and that the hard work of leadership, empathy and conversation make possible reconciliation and progress.

 During this time when our nation feels so painfully divided, let us be a beacon of hope. And above all, let us teach our children well.

Dr. Barbara Johnson, division superintendent for Prince Edward County Schools, can be reached at barbara.johnson@pecps.k12.va.us ; John Melton, head of school at Fuqua School, can be reached at meltonjh@fuquaschool.com; Dr. Larry Stimpert, president of Hampden-Sydney College, can be reached at president@hsc.edu; and W. Taylor Reveley IV, president of Longwood University, can be reached at reveleywt@longwood.edu..