How Violence Tests Our Unity

“The kind of unity American needs is human unity, human beings united in the common purpose of just being human to each other. This human unity is what’s being tested by the violence in America today.”
Sargent Shriver |Wilberforce, OH| January 25, 1968

Our Quote of the Week invites us to address a central obstacle to our achievement of unity: the violence that too many of us experience in our society. From the many ways that gun violence traumatizes our communities to the more passive manifestations of violence that eat away at the fabric of society, including poverty and injustice, we must stand up to the manifold expressions of violence that leave many of us too scarred and traumatized to connect with each other and with a larger purpose.

Fifty-five years ago today, Sargent Shriver addressed the graduates at Wilberforce University, giving a convocation speech that is reflective of the era, but that also transcends it. He addresses the problems of inequality, racism, and systemic poverty, asserting that it is impossible to eradicate violence without addressing the desperation that millions of people feel due to lack of opportunity, justice, and freedom. He tells the audience:

“To the extent we have violence at home, I think one might well conclude we have not created the conditions in which the good life can be lived.”

Shriver outlines the signs of unity he sees in churches and communities all around him, as people of different faiths and from diverse walks of life band together to work on a common purpose -- something that creates the “human unity” he refers to in the quote.

Although Shriver asserts that unity is necessary and is most certainly achievable, his words illustrate that it is not possible without eradicating the levels of violence he sees happening “everywhere”, and without the application of “pure and undiluted” justice.

As we reflect on Shriver’s words, we must acknowledge that working towards unity is not easy. It must include everything from difficult conversations in our homes to policy changes in our systems and to fostering intersectionality in our communities. We must work together to stand up to the hatred that causes the many types of violence we are seeing around us. And we must also shed the cynicism that tempts us into thinking that human unity is not possible.

Like this quote? Read the speech and subscribe to receive our Quote of the Week by email.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
Get the Quote of the Week in Your Inbox