Despite the frigid temperature Ric Sheffield is now unaccustomed to after moving from Ohio to the San Francisco Bay area, the author/speaker/professor’s words spread warmth throughout the Chapel on Tuesday evening. Sheffield said he is first and foremost a storyteller, which on a chilly evening, the students could appreciate. Sheffield’s book “We Got By: A Black Family’s Journey in the Heartland,” chronicles his own personal experience growing up Black in predominantly white, rural Ohio and is a testament to his storytelling prowess.
But Sheffield didn’t visit WRA during Martin Luther King Jr. Week to discuss his book. Or even his own Black experience. Sheffield instead spoke of bridges and shared an image of the San Francisco Bay Bridge that he could see from his home. Sheffield shared an image of John Lewis making “good trouble” across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, despite the resulting police brutality. Sheffield shared an image of Ruby Bridges, whose name is a powerful reminder of both how far we’ve come and yet how far we have to go.
Sheffield’s visual presentation and rhythmic repetition of a bridge’s capacity to unite gave his rapt audience of future leaders (and voters!) a profound reminder of the sacrifices made in this country for the right to live, to learn, to vote, and what it means to be truly free and equal. Though no one in the audience raised their hand when asked if they had a solution to the social and civil justice challenges that plague us, Sheffield had a few ideas. “Continue your education,” he implored. “Find your people, but also surround yourself with differences. It’s hard to empathize with people we know very little about.” Read, learn, vote and serve, he finished.
We exited into the darkness with hope. Sheffield saw only promise in each of our students, and expressed faith that so many would continue to fight for social justice. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words felt especially profound: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
We are so privileged to have had the opportunity to share space with Ric Sheffield during this week of reflection.