Guest commentary: La Jollans must not let silence of inaction further marginalize members of our community

Participants in a Labor Day chalk-in draw on the La Jolla Bike Path in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Participants in a Labor Day event draw chalk messages and images on the La Jolla Bike Path in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

La Jolla: We need to talk.

This beautiful jewel of a city by the sea has been gracious to me. It’s been the first community in which I have practiced ordained ministry after leaving divinity school three years ago. It has received me with warmth and hospitality. I consider myself fortunate to get to be the one who represents the United Church of Christ in La Jolla.

I came to La Jolla by way of my profession. I came to my profession by way of loving people. I love people. All of them. So you could say it was my love of people that ultimately led me to La Jolla.

This is something I try to remember every day. It guides my decision-making and the way I lead my historic congregation — La Jolla’s first community of faith. As a millennial at the helm of a congregation whose average age exceeds mine by several decades, l am always so proud of how my congregation — and the majority of our wider La Jolla community — are so in tune with what we need to do to move forward as people of peace, justice and love. I am proud to be part of this community.

This pride in La Jolla and love for people is the source of my present concern. I am concerned for the ways that my brothers and sisters of color must navigate living, working and playing in La Jolla. I am concerned for them not only because of acts such as when my church’s two Black Lives Matter signs were stolen but also for the subtle slights, the minute microaggressions and most corrosively, the silence. There are some who say God exists in silence. If this is true, the most destructive forces of evil can exist in silence, too.

You see, the sort of racism that leads to so-called peace officers choking Black men on a city sidewalk does not have its origin in some far-off White nationalist group. Rather, it has its origin in the silence of communities like ours. It has its origin in the silence of well-meaning people who prioritize civility, friendships and avoidance of conflict over real harm done to people of color. And if you don’t believe offhand comments or opinions can cause real, tangible harm, then I am here to tell you that it’s time to check your privilege.

Real harm was done by two members of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board when they attacked both the Black Lives Matter movement and the appropriateness of the local “ChalkUp” events. I will always defend the First Amendment right to free speech. However, there are occasions when individuals’ speech renders them incompatible with continued public service. There are occasions when corrective action needs to be taken that exceeds the civility and good manners of a new code of conduct. This is one such occasion.

Let me be clear: The calls of community members for the removal or resignation of these individuals are not in the name of revenge or retribution. Rather, it is an act of love for our community, which is too good, too beautiful and too important for us to let the corrosive silence of inaction contribute to the further marginalization of members of our community.

We must fill this silence with the clear message that opposition to full inclusion and equity — even in its most passive and veiled forms — will never be tolerated. La Jolla is the jewel of the Pacific. La Jolla deserves better.

The Rev. Tim Seery is pastor of Congregational Church of La Jolla.