Shining Our Light

Originally appeared in Eureka Factory  website,  April 2015 


My family wants to say, can you all please, please stop the violence? Freddie Gray would not want this. Freddie’s father and mother does not want no violence. Violence does not get justice.” — Fredericka Gray, twin sister of Freddie Gray, NPR

Almost exactly two years ago, the violence of the Boston Marathon bombing shook America, and compelled reflection on the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness.” Now, yet again, Dr. King’s words should ring out in the violence following yet another case of police brutality resulting in death, this time in Baltimore where, despite the valiant efforts of a community calling for peace, the city devolved into the immediate spiral of violence that violence begets.

IMG_20150424_154302313 (1)

FIRST Volunteer Poster

I am well aware that I speak from the relative security of the privilege of race and reasonable economic well being; that I will never know the humility of racial profiling, the fear of being stopped while riding a bicycle or shot in the back or tackled by police for the act of running.  The issues at work here are far beyond anything that a single ordinary citizen can hope to overcome or correct, or fully understand. These are institutional ills so deep seated as to be a social cancer, eating away at the core of our humanity.

And yet, over the past two weeks, I’ve seen great shining examples of the better world we can create together.  This past week, in St. Louis, not 30 minutes from the town of Ferguson, over 40,000 people gathered at the FIRST Championship to celebrate the ingenuity of youth from all over the world.  Tens of thousands of children of all ages and backgrounds and abilities, supported by 1200 volunteers and hundreds of sponsors, spent four days in collaborative competition, nurtured, encouraged and empowered at all levels by people who believe that they are the key to a better future, a future anchored by the concept of Gracious Professionalism – success through integrity and compassion.


Harmon STEM School students showing what they Make at Gulf Coast MakerCon 2015

The week before that, we held our annual Gulf Coast MakerCon event, celebrating the DIY Inventive Spirit, where over 800 people came together locally to share what they make and do in another event designed to inspire empowered learning and living, to encourage social growth away from passive consumption, to active creation, enabling everyone to be a maker of his or her future

FIRST and Gulf Coast MakerCon are not in and of themselves solutions to the systemic ills we face as a society.  They are two of many noble efforts, providing opportunities to rise above our baser selves; to overcome our suspicion and fear of one another and find the common ground on which we can stand together;  to embrace open collaboration; to encourage one another to build, achieve and learn; to find purpose and meaning and celebrate our shared journey to self-discovery, to bethe helpers the light that drives out the darkness.

We can’t know what goes on in people’s hearts, or understand the simmering dynamics of communities of which we are not a part. The only thing we can control is ourselves; the biggest influence we can wield is in our families and neighborhoods.

I’ve written here before that I believe nothing will change unless we, as a people, as a culture, stop being the silent majority for common sense and compassion, and start actively building the safe and sane nation in which we want to live.  We can be “the helpers” Fred Rogers spoke of, the people who stand up, who bring the light. We have to be.

Mentor. Make. Share. Care.


-T. Willingham


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