Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Acts of Kindness for Colleen and Others: We Can Control How We Respond

Danvers Public Schools have, unfortunately, experienced a plethora of traumatic events, including the killing nine year ago of a high school teacher, Colleen Ritzer. Now, bad events — horrific events, discriminatory events — cannot be eradicated. But, we have an opportunity to consider how we respond to them — when they happen and in the months and years thereafter.

This piece is about how the Danvers schools have recently responded to the anniversary of Colleen Ritzer’s death. As detailed in the press and as seen on the campus of Danvers High School, there has been a movement for and demonstration of kindness.

A Kindness Shortage

We live in a world in which kindness seems to be in short supply. People of all ages and stages are acting out. We see meanness in many places and spaces — schools, airports, restaurants, roadways, families, workplaces. Recently, since my name is Karen, I was interviewed about the offensive Karen meme and a piece I wrote in 2019 about wanting to change my name or at least its spelling. Who wants to be singled out for meanness and discriminatory behavior?

While there may be many explanations for the abundant lack of kindness in our world (dysregulation as a symptom of trauma is but one), there needs to be a way to respond. We need to counterbalance the anger and meanness and hostility which is so abundant with something that is lasting and meaningful and powerful and positive.

Kindness and Chalking

So, it is in this vein that I was struck by the positive chalking done at Danvers High School. I have seen many chalkings on sidewalks done in protest, and many of the things written weren’t pleasant. Folks were mad and they showed it on sidewalks and beyond. I’m fine with chalk protests by the by.

But there can be chalking that is positive. These new chalkings at Danvers High School, several of which appear below and one of which appears at the start of this blog post, are worth pausing to see and then read.

I appreciate that a set of chalkings at one high school will not bring kindness to the world. I get that the problem runs deeper. But, we do need to start somewhere. We do need to take steps that show what we believe in rather than always railing against what we don’t believe in.

And, the Danvers community did show what they believed in recently in responding to a discriminatory banner hung over a bridge on Rt. 114 by 10 masked people from a hate-group. Folks from Danvers and surrounding towns hung a reverse banner on that same bridge — — an anti-discrimination banner.

The Globe piece uses this phrase in its piece about Danvers to describe the banner and protest: This is my community. When we show kindness, we can also say with pride: This is my community. We cannot forget horrific and traumatic events. But, we can find ways to ameliorate the pain and anguish.

Kindness is one of those ways. Danvers just showed us that.



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Karen Gross

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor