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What I Do Matters: Especially Today

Clergy at Heather Heyer Memorial Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

When I saw the images and heard the video of the young white supremacist men parading with lit torches around the campus of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, my thoughts returned to another massacre on the streets of the quiet southern town of Greensboro, NC, my home for 20 years.

Shortly after 11:00 am on the Saturday morning of November 3, 1979, a nine vehicle convoy containing 37 members of the KKK and the American Nazi party fired their shotguns into the crowd of 100 black and white protestors during a rally calling for economic justice for textile workers in North Carolina. Five people (one black, three white and one Cuban American) died and ten others including my childhood friend, Paul Bermanzohn were wounded.

Paul and I grew up together in an immigrant neighborhood in the Bronx. Our parents both came from Poland. My parents emigrated to America before Hitler rose to power; Paul’s parents, however, endured the horrors of Nazi Germany and were the sole survivors of their large extended families.

Paul was especially targeted as one of the organizers and was deliberately shot in the head by a Klansman. Like his parents, Paul miraculously survived. The perpetrators were all acquitted. It wasn’t until May 25, 2006, that the results of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission condemned the KKK, the American Nazi party, the Greensboro Police Department, and the city itself, for being responsible for the events of November 3, 1979, and the subsequent cover-up.

Paul almost died defending the rights of the most vulnerable. I became alive with an insatiable passion to make things right. I answered the prophetic call and deployed myself to serve the people in my Greensboro community. How does one even begin to repair the broken hearts of a city torn by violence and hate? More than a decade later, I would enter seminary to become a rabbi, a teacher and a preacher for social justice.

The continuation of violence and hatred disturbs and reminds me that the motto of the United States Memorial Museum, “What You Do Matters,” is our only moral choice.

Heather Heyer died defending our basic rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To honor her memory, let’s make her loss matter.

In my recently published memoir You are the Book, I describe my role in the aftermath of the Greensboro Massacre and the consequences of being a witness.

Click here for more information about You are the Book.

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