He went and hung himself.
We all knew. We saw it happening for years. Then he hung himself.
Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged suicide does not come as a shock to me. I say alleged because we all knew he would be taken out-- by himself or someone that did not want the truth reverberating. Amidst women’s cries that justice will never be served, I cannot help but consider the voices of the Caribbean children I know.
In April one of my students showed me his social justice report for history class. A ninth grader with the wisdom of a thirty-year-old stated, “This is about that horrific man over there” as he pointed to the west. “What man?”, I asked. On our island my students call “the man” any colonialist that has caused a problem. He, “the man” is the one that takes, that is unjust, that doesn’t understand our ways, that tries to control and manipulate, that acts above us, that doesn’t consider us, that forgets about our needs, our wants, our ways. The man is the slave owner in present day, of course. I ask for clarification, “What man from the west?”
“Him, the one that keeps girls unfairly and owns them like slaves. That rapes them and uses them for sex. We all know him, Miss. We all know what he is up to. And no one…no one stops him. It’s been going on for years. Everyone knows about this. Our families, they know about it. Some of them have had to work over there in that horrible place, Little St. James. How do you not know about this, Miss?”
I didn’t have an answer for him. I didn’t know about it. I can see Little Saint James from my apartment balcony that overlooks the Caribbean Sea. It’s about 1.5 miles away from where I live. But it was obvious that he, the boy, did as a 14-year-old growing up in the Caribbean. He knew about the man-- the man that raped and pillaged. This theme had been part of the boy’s DNA, lineage, and entire existence. The man took. And he, the boy, stood resilient. I have actually wondered if this is why my Caribbean friends are so truthful and so bold in their convictions. Maybe generations of slavery made them bold, made them strong, and made them hurricane-proof. They would not stand for Jeffrey Epstein, they would tell on him. They did for over twenty years. Twenty years. (I had to write it a second time, so I could take those words in). They called it “pedophile island”.
I came back from traveling last week and received a Title IX letter from my former employer and alma mater, Montreat College, a small evangelical college in Appalachia. I told the truth about what happened to me in an open letter on social media after I went through thirteen meetings over 2.5 years prior trying to resolve harassment and discrimination that I had experienced for twenty years. Twenty years. I never wrote a Title IX report because I was discouraged not to; it would hurt the professor and the “gospel”. “God would want me to be resolved with the person without a formal complaint”, was voiced to me many times.
But this week, I wrote the Title IX Director my list. I also wrote about the minimizing behaviors around discrimination and harassment I had seen and heard from the current Dean and President who are both known by the faculty, staff, and students to be demagogues (extremely hurtful and damaging to people not like them and who do not like their rhetoric). The Title IX Director told me that she would read through my documents and get back to me. Then she quit. Yep, she resigned. I’ve heard her resignation had been in the works for some time. But what about the female, Hispanic, African-American, transgender, and gay friends that I know. Twenty years, and suddenly my story is ready to be documented, and she resigns.
Where did all that data go? Who will read it now? Surely, not the current HR Director or VP Finance that did nothing when I told him two and half years ago? Surely, not the Dean of Students who said it was beyond his jurisdiction because it was a faculty issue? Who will take on justice now?
Well, I have to say, I live in the Caribbean and I have learned a lot from these people that were once enslaved. I know what it means to be not heard-- to tell the truth over and over again, and for nothing to change. I know what it feels like when other people call and say, “I just had no idea what you were going through, until you put it on Facebook?” And I say, “Really? Because I lost my job. I sold my house. I left my community of 20 years. I told you about it at birthday parties and Thanksgiving and community parades. We had coffee about it. I told you what I was going through. I was honest. I spoke with veritas. And that was two years ago. How did you not know?”
So, America as we stand with a racist-lying-condemning-pedophile in the Oval Office. As our churches fall apart with youth pastors that rape teenagers as they feed them pizza on Wednesday nights. As our nuns tell us about their sexual abuse from priests who claim to be pure. As our gay friends tell us of abuse as they walk the streets holding hands with their partners. As our transgender friends ask us to use the bathroom. As our African-American friends tell us their lives matter and that they teach their children to keep their heads down and say they are sorry for nothing. As our Hispanic friends tell us that they are afraid to go to the grocery store or get on a plane because they might get arrested. And, as our children ask us for bullet-proof backpacks to take their books to school. Let’s listen to them.
As the Washington National Cathedral asked us last week:
“Violent words lead to violent actions…..When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.”
Where is our decency? Where is my decency? Where is your decency? When does our silence become complicity? We become complicit the day we see something and say nothing. So let’s say something. Let’s be bold in our convictions. Resilient in our veritas. Righteous in our words. Stronger than a hurricane.
Because kids— kids in the Caribbean said something about Jeffrey Epstein and his little island named after a great Saint. They said something for twenty years. Twenty years. And we heard nothing. We did nothing. And now he went and hung himself.
Melissa B. Wilson, A.L.M. and M.S. is an active conservationist and environmentalist who happily lives in paradise (the U.S. Virgin Islands) working to create STEM career pathways and networks for Caribbean students. As a former evangelical, a current climate activist, gay ally, and descendant of the Bohemian Reformation (the first Protestant Reformation) she speaks about faith, life, ecology, and our current political climate on her blog www.ecotheologist.com. She graduated from Harvard University in May 2019. Her conservation research about wilderness, reaching Half-Earth, and STEM education can be found at www.melissawilson.net.