Commentary by Terri Lee Freeman
President, National Civil Rights Museum
On Saturday, July 2, 2016, the world lost a survivor, an advocate, a teller of truth, and a believer that ALL human life has merit and purpose. Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor, an author and a Freedom Award recipient in 1995. He worked to ensure that we would never forget the atrocities of the Holocaust and continued to draw attention to the horrors of genocide throughout the world. He encouraged us to never turn our heads and be indifferent, but act to help those who need our help.
While I did not have the privilege of meeting Mr. Wiesel, I feel certain that he had concerns about the rhetoric of hatred that seems to be loudly proclaimed by far too many. I’m certain that he likely was horrified by the idea of closing off our country’s borders, when he himself adopted this country as his own. I’m sure the idea of ostracizing people, based on their religion, saddened him to his core. I’m sure he wondered what the future would hold for this world, where he saw more good than bad. But I’m also certain that he would implore us today, to continue to fight injustice, when we see it. To continue to see every man and woman as ourselves. And, to continue to not just say something, but do something to make right the wrongs of this world.
On Tuesday, July 5, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, another police shooting, another loss of life, another video, another tragedy. Although we don’t yet know the specifics of this situation, Mr. Wiesel would implore us to find out the facts and make right the wrongs. Not see this incident as “just another shooting” but see Alton Sterling as someone’s son, brother, nephew and friend. To value his life.
While we no longer have Mr. Wiesel to walk among us, his spirit, his teaching, his very essence will never leave us. It is incumbent on us to pick up the mantle and carry it boldly. Simply remembering what he experienced and lived through should be enough for us to fight for humanity.
In his words, “At critical times, at moments of peril, no one has the right to abstain, to be prudent. When the life or death or simply the well-being of a community is at stake, neutrality is criminal, for it aids and abets the oppressor and not his victim.”
Thank you, Mr. Wiesel.