Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

#Be26

I used to like the number 26. It’s the sum of the letters in our alphabet and the number on the back of my father’s baseball jersey. Now I love 26, thanks to the courageous acts of Tyler Magill in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.

On August 11, a group of white supremacists descended on Charlottesville and the grounds of the University of Virginia, looking to spread fear and hate. Having spent four happy and deeply formative years at UVA, it shocked and horrified me. I know UVA has a complicated history, not all of which is proud, but I also know it’s a place that calls upon its students to open their minds, to think beyond themselves, and to better the world by becoming better people. UVA also introduced me to some of the best people I have ever known, people who helped open my mind. People like Tyler.
He was among the first people I met when I arrived at UVA in the fall of 1989. Our circles of friends overlapped heavily, so I saw him often and quickly learned he was an original: authentic, empathetic, humble, honest, hilarious, and with a gigantic brain rivaled in size only by his heart.
A longtime resident of Charlottesville and a UVA employee, Tyler was keeping tabs on the situaton as it evolved on Friday. He hadn’t set out to get involved, but when he saw men assembling in a nearby field and realized it was taking a nasty turn, he directed cars away from the area and called 911. Tyler went to the Rotunda as the hateful march made its way down UVA’s fabled Lawn. I’ll let the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s article take it from here:

“They marched up the lawn in an endless line,” Mr. Magill said. “At this point I was so shellshocked I sat down on the steps of the Rotunda. They just walked around me chanting. I saw they were starting to surround 20 or 30 students.”

At that point, Mr. Magill recalled, he felt the students were in serious danger.

“I was just thinking, Be with them; maybe my presence will change something,” he said. “I figured if they’re willing to kill 25 people, maybe they’re not willing to kill 26.”

He rushed over to join the group. “I linked arms with them and they were on us, frothing,” he said. “It was like that for I don’t know for how long. Liquid splashed on to us and then torches.”

I figured if they’re willing to kill 25 people, maybe they’re not willing to kill 26.
Many people’s instinct for self-preservation would have made them run away from the danger, but not Tyler. He stepped right into it and took a nonviolent stand. He was hit in the head with a torch (and hospitalized days later after suffering a stroke that may be linked to the assault), but that didn’t scare him. He came back to make another nonviolent stand for social justice on Saturday, the day on which a domestic terrorist –let’s call him what he is — rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters and killed Heather Heyer. Tyler showed up again on Sunday to hold “Unite the Right” accountable as Jason Kessler, leader of the rally, attempted to hold a press conference and to blame the Charlottesville police for what happened. Tyler wasn’t having it. As the police escorted Kessler away, my friend put his arms in the air to show he had no weapons and followed right behind, saying, “Her name was Heather, Jason. Her blood is on your hands. Her blood is on your hood.” (Watch the video here.)
Would I have had the courage to do what Tyler did? I honestly don’t know. But I do know he proved that one person can make a difference. Maybe all the difference. Do not lose sight of that.
Or of the fact that these violent cowards are the few. The hundreds that came from near and far and congregated in Charlottesville are nothing compared to the Women’s March –the largest protest in U.S. history –which drew well over half a million people in D.C. alone and over three million across the country.
My friend Don –also a friend of Tyler’s, a policeman for more than twenty years, and one of those mind-opening people I met at UVA — offered beautiful words about our friend and our path forward:

When a horrible act like this happens, and happens at our home, especially when that home stands for freedom and limitless education and community and youth and hope and having the world at your fingertips; it makes us look inward. We see in ourselves what we fear most: failure, disappointment, excess, apathy, and loathing. We then look at our loved ones doing the same thing, and we see their worry and despair. We see our friends suffering also, and having lost all we thought we had, we become naked and unprotected and completely exposed. And we hate ourselves for it. And that’s the real weapon of terror.

So what do we do? Well, I’m going to train harder. I’m going to make sure my people have everything they need. I’m going to live better. I’m going to lead by example. I going to spread the story of this tragedy; and foster the hope we can all draw from this because WE are going to stop this. We are going to play to our individual strengths and come together as one people because we are one race; humans. That is our first step.

If you’re a musician, create song because, “somewhere something alway sings.” Find what you do best, and apply that talent to stopping all self-destructing forces. We can all plan peaceful protests. Flood the media with determination and resolve. Post videos and pictures of hope and righteousness. But most importantly, we all have to be better than the person we are right now! All of us! Every day be better than who you were the day before! It’s the only chance we have! The only chance to show the world that we will not succumb to fright, anxiety, and ignorance! We are better than our history! And just when we begin to think we are making a difference; REMEMBER, we all have to make sure we can be number 26!

Don is right. We all have platforms –whether it’s the family dinner table, a blog, a concert hall –and it’s time to use them, every day. Step into the void left by those who call themselves leaders but fail to denounce racism and bigotry, or even to call it by name. We have to. Let Tyler’s courage inspire yours. Don’t show up for hate; show up only for love. Do only good. Speak up. Link arms. Cultivate hope. Be selfless. Be 26.

Splat of the Week: The UVA Board of Visitors (again!)

I could not be more proud and embarrassed to feature my alma mater’s governing body for the second time in six months.

When I launched this little writing project last summer and instituted the Splat of the Week feature, the University of Virginia Board of Visitors was the second honoree.

Helen Dragas, Rector of the Board, and her cohorts got the golden pancake then for their unsuccessful and ham-handed attempt to oust the University’s popular president, Teresa Sullivan. The Board professed concern about Sullivan’s ability to lead UVA at a time when higher ed is in the midst of great transformation.

The student body, alum and faculty didn’t buy what Dragas and the Board were selling, or the disingenuous way they were selling it.  We’re talking leadership at a renowned public institution, not a $30 Rolex in Times Square.

The backlash that followed was swift and severe. Dragas and the Board did an abrupt 180 and reinstated Sullivan almost as quickly as they’d shoved her out the door, but not before the story had been picked up by news outlets around the country.

Things calmed down at Mr. Jefferson’s University after Sullivan’s reinstatement, or so it seemed until this week when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, an accrediting body, put the University on warning.

According to the SACSCOC, UVA broke two rules. The first prohibits a minority of board members from being in charge, and the second requires the institution to specify the faculty’s role in governance. The way the Sullivan issue was handled demonstrated compliance with neither, said SACSCOC. The very concerns Dragas prophesied were ones she helped fulfill.

But I don’t want to spend too much time mired in her and the Board’s failings. They got at least two things right.  When it  came to manufacturing a leadership crisis, this group produced a perfect specimen. And, they passed the law of unintended consequences with the kind of blazing speed that Congress only wishes it could bring to its handling of the fiscal cliff.

For that, they deserve a second golden pancake. Mr. Jefferson would’ve wanted it that way.