BY CHRIS KERR | March 11, 2013
written by: Matt Gannon ’14 – Gonzaga College High School (Washington, DC)
This past Valentine’s Day I had an incredible experience and opportunity presented through Gonzaga College High School, where I am currently a junior. Thanks to the connection of another student’s mother, Delegate Valentino-Smith of the Maryland State Judiciary, eight Gonzaga students, including myself, as well as two teachers, were able to travel to Annapolis to meet with Maryland State Governor Martin O’Malley about the death penalty, something we have been learning about the past few weeks in ethics class. We also had the opportunity to view the judiciary hearing on the bill advocating for repealing of the death penalty.
When arrived, we were directed towards the Governor’s office, where, through a fortunate turn of events, we were able to take pictures with the Governor, but, even more importantly, sit and talk with him for almost an hour while he ate lunch. O’Malley, a Gonzaga grad, knew a lot of what we were being taught about concerning the death penalty, and explained how the same lessons we were learning had pushed him towards being against the death penalty. The Governor also walked us through what his recent “State of the State” address, which he informed us was heavily based on the teachings of Jesus in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Overall, our meeting with the Governor was very laid-back and casual, and for many of us brought some humanity to the politics we see so often on the news.
Despite all this, the most incredible part of the day (at least for myself) was yet to come. The day before, my teacher had informed me that if I would like to, I might have the opportunity to testify in front of “a few people” on my opinion on the death penalty. It didn’t hit me until later that evening that what Ms. Murphy was referring to was actually going to be either the state senate or judiciary. I was incredibly nervous, but knew that it
was a once in a lifetime opportunity to speak up for something I believed in. We sat, watching the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Archbishop Lori, and many other officials speak, and finally, it was my turn to take a seat. I had a small speech prepared, but when it came my turn to speak, I spoke from the heart of how I’d been raised and what Ms. Murphy, my ethics teacher, had taught me. I spoke about how a system with such inequalities could never be called “justice,” and questioned how we could support a culture where the common sense not to kill is instilled in us from a young age, but still use a legalized form of murder as retribution. The entire day was a great experience, and the feeling of standing up in a real way against something like the death penalty couldn’t be beat.
Chris joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) as executive director in 2011. He has over fifteen years of experience in social justice advocacy and leadership in Catholic education and ministry. Prior to ISN he served in multiple roles at John Carroll University, including coordinating international immersion experience and social justice education programming as an inaugural co-director of John Carroll’s Arrupe Scholars Program for Social Action. Prior to his time at John Carroll he served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and secondary levels in Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Chris speaks regularly at campuses and parishes about social justice education and advocacy, Jesuit mission, and a broad range of social justice issues. He currently serves on the board of directors for Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ). Chris earned a B.A. and M.A. from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. He and his family reside in Shaker Heights, Ohio.