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Taking the plunge

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If you clicked on the link for this page, you've probably heard all there is to say and read all there is to read.

You're probably reading this on Wednesday, November 18, eight days removed from Monday, November 9, seven days removed from the evening of Tuesday, November 10. I don't need to remind you about the events in Columbia that exploded into the singularity of emotion that was last week. You don't need to re-read, or maybe re-live, those events. If you clicked this link, you know enough about them.

As a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, it's a bit hard to say how I felt last week. If I'm being honest, I don't think I had time to feel anything. Before I could process Monday, Tuesday happened. And before I could fully process Tuesday, I was asked to write about it for this site. So I've spent the past five days processing. Thinking. Dreaming.

My prompt for this post was, "What do you want to see happen at Mizzou going forward?"

And I still haven't the slightest idea of what the hell that means.

As someone who loves Mizzou and the people who call it home, it's easy to look at last week and be outraged. When your brothers and sisters, fellow students and human beings, are so visibly and tangibly hurting, you want to do all you can to help. You share encouraging words, pray if you're spiritually inclined, drop off supplies to cold and hungry strikers and try to dialogue with people even when you know it might end in a shouting match.

You hope that the traces of empathy and compassion bubbling up in you will surface among the greater public, resulting in some kind of change. Something lasting and meaningful. And when all you get is internet flame wars and hurtful, ill-informed opinions, it's easy to bury your head under the covers and opine: Why can't we all get along? What ever happened to human decency? Who, in their right mind, would want to cause so much damage, emotional and physical, to someone not so different than them?

Believe it or not, that's the easy part. It's easy to have an opinion and share that opinion with the world. It's easy to write it down and make it sound pretty. Doubtless, you've read many articles you agree with in the past week and fewer that you don't. My various social networks have been littered with opinion pieces, blogs, articles, etc. I've read more on one topic in such a short amount of time than I can ever remember. I've spent days thinking about it. I've lost sleep over it. And the question has been presented to me, time and again...

"What do you want to see happen at Mizzou going forward, Josh?"

I'm still at a loss for words.

I'm not qualified to make these decisions. I'm 22 years old. I grew up under the watchful eye of two very loving parents who have encouraged my passions and helped me get where I am today.

I'm white and have never had to deal with the type of hurt that results from feeling unsafe, unvalued or unloved because of my skin.

I'm privileged. I'll readily admit that. And I'm in no position to say how issues like racism and hatred can be fixed. Very few people, if any, are.

These types of issues aren't monsters that can be slain by one or two knights in shining armor. They're forests: deep, dark and mysterious, living breathing organisms that have taken root over time. Few men and women have the courage to take the plunge and explore their horrible depths. And even when they emerge - if they emerge - they're unable to uproot the entire forest. Just as these things have dug deep over time, so they must be uprooted over time. And the uprooting process is hard and painful.

So, yeah, I'm not qualified to make these decisions. Hell, I'll admit it: I'm not sure I'm courageous enough to explore that forest alone. It scares me. It'll be uncomfortable and will certainly require personal sacrifice.

But even as I consider my own lack of answers, I do know one thing: I'm tired. I'm tired of calling Columbia, Missouri, my home when I know there are people who want to feel that way but can't because of the color of their skin. I'm tired of seeing internet opportunists use the pain of my peers to write click-bait headlines so thousands of voices will validate their opinions and sooth their own crippling insecurities.

I'm tired of people worrying about football over human beings.

Last Thursday night, I went on a run. It was the end of my school week, and I felt like I needed to decompress. As I ran, I could feel all of the emotions I had struggled to process and think through bubbling to the surface; many runners could tell you similar stories.

I had to hold back tears as I thought about some of the hateful words I'd heard and read, only imagining what it would feel like to be on the receiving end of them. I felt hopeless, inadequate, unable to say what I wanted to say because, frankly, I didn't know how to say it. And if this rambling, stream-of-consciousness post signifies anything, I still don't.

But as things on campus have died down and newer, fresher issues have made their way to the forefront of the public's attention, I've been able to decide one thing. Through all the confusion, hurt and helplessness that seemed to pervade my home last week, I came out on the other side with one goal in mind.

I'm going to make the plunge. I want to dive into the forest and do my share of uprooting. I know I won't be able to do it alone. Again, I'm under-qualified to fight these things by myself.

But if sacrifice and discomfort signals to someone that I'm fed up with pushing things under the rug only to see them resurface later, then maybe it'll be worth it. Maybe they'll inspire someone else to dive into the forest and do their share. It'll look different for everyone: maybe it's a difficult conversation with an acquaintance; maybe it's calling out a friend who makes an insensitive or willingly ignorant comment; maybe it's standing alongside someone you don't know at a protest, shouting to the heavens that you're tired of these things too.

I don't know. I'm only one guy.

But I'd ask you this: Consider taking the plunge. Dive into the depths. Uproot hate where you see it. And maybe we won't ever have to experience the kind of pain that we did last week.