Thursday night should have been an evening of great celebration — a huge milestone in the lives of 150 seniors from Kansas City’s Center High School and their families. Their graduation, held at the Church of the Resurrection’s Leawood sanctuary, was to be followed by Project Graduation, a safe after-party for students. Instead, grads and their families were shaken by the news that a fight broke out as students were leaving. A gun was pulled, shots were fired and two people were sent to the hospital. Fortunately, the injuries were not life threatening.
In the aftermath, I stood with Center’s principal as we watched security camera footage with police, trying to unravel what happened. She and her assistant were steady and amazing, thinking about what steps they needed to take next to help the graduates, their families and the teens who would still be in school the next day. Meeting them, it was not a surprise that Center has been recognized as one of the top high schools in Missouri by U.S. News & World Report. And it was clear they deeply care for their students.
I’ve already heard from some asking why Resurrection hosts Center’s graduation. Ten years ago, the school approached us, noting that they could not accommodate all those who wanted to attend. It did not make financial sense to rent a large venue downtown. They wanted to think outside the box, and wondered if a large church in Kansas would welcome them.
When they asked, we said yes because we loved the idea of building bridges across the state line. One of our major focuses is supporting public education. We have partnerships with six elementary schools in Missouri and Kansas, providing food, books, beds, tutors, coats and more. We wanted to bless Center’s students, families, faculty and administration.
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We don’t think God thinks in terms of state lines. Our church has two locations in Kansas and two in Missouri. We don’t see state lines, but people. And we in this metropolitan area need each other, benefit from each other and are ultimately one community.
One of the tragic legacies of our city is its racial and economic divide. One very small symbolic step toward breaking it down was for us to host Center’s graduation. This act of hospitality reflected a way our two organizations could foster an even deeper commitment to a shared vision of a different future for our city.
I spent 2017 researching and writing a book on fear. There are four important steps I encourage people to take when fear is at play in important decisions. I’ll mention just two here: Examine your fears in the light of the facts, and address them with action. The fact is that Thursday’s shootings were the only shootings ever at a Center event. Gun violence in any of Kansas City’s schools is virtually non-existent.
Prior to this incident, there were only two shootings at schools or school events in the metro area in the last five years: one shooting at a track meet and one suicide. Both of these occurred at suburban, overwhelmingly white schools. When it comes to the kind of mass shootings in schools we’ve seen across the U.S. in the last 20 years, the vast majority of shooters are white males from suburban districts.
Addressing our fears with action in this case involves carefully evaluating what happened and developing a plan to prevent it in the future. Center and Resurrection security will work together with Leawood police to develop such a plan for future commencement events. Fear should move us to action, not lead us to give up.
When we act out of fear, particularly fear of others, we almost always do the wrong thing. Instead, I hope that not just Resurrection members and people who live in Leawood, but all of us in Kansas City, will choose to push back our fears — to live unafraid, with courage and hope.
I believe that if we do that across the metro area, we’ll break down walls and barriers between people and build bridges across divides. We will have created an entire metropolitan area that is one of the most livable cities in America.
Adam Hamilton is senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.