Learning to Love Through the Tears

A Community Struggles to Heal Following the Death of a Pastor's Son

Pastor Michelle Thompson was fond of saying that her son, Fitz Alexander Campbell Thomas, born prematurely feet first, came into the world dancing. Though a strong swimmer too, on the evening of June 4 as he and some friends were crossing Goose Creek near Confluence Park, the 16-year-old, remarkably fit teen inexplicably disappeared beneath the water and drowned.

Friends who frantically and repeatedly called 911 waited a half an hour for help to arrive. When it did, it did no good. At a Black Lives Matter rally in mid-June, organized by the Loudoun NAACP, which she heads, Michelle related her perception of events this way:

“When I spoke to you last I was filled with hope and confidence. And yet, I’m convinced that there is something broken in our system. There are some systems that are broken. One system in particular that was broken was 911, the number that was called for my son last week as he drowned in Goose Creek. They routed the call to Maryland which meant my son had no help for 30 minutes.” When they arrived, “They had tools they had a truck they had a lifeboat, they had trained professionals but no help for my black son,” allegedly because the drowning had occurred on the Virginia side of the river. For background, Loudoun received the initial call and seemed to have been unclear where the accident occurred. The county has since changed its policy to respond to any nearby water emergencies. 

In response to other news reports, Michelle's told her Facebook followers that she doesn’t blame racism for the failure of Loudoun’s emergency response team to save Fitz, but maintains that all “systems” from the economic to political have to do with equity and are in sore need of accountability. “I’m not marching for a seat at the table. I came to work the table!”

At Fitz’s funeral on June 13th, his friend and teammate Christian Yohannes said, “It’s our turn to follow his example and to normalize unapologetic happiness and love," 

Three more exercises in healing:  

#1 “Just Fitz it” was Virginia State Sen. John Bell's suggestion for how Fitz's friends should honor his memory. By that he meant, if the church is having a coat drive, go out and get 100 coats. If the food banks’ shelves are bare, ask your classmates to raid their pantries. ”The only way to cure darkness is light.”

#2 Explore change with an open heart, or like the shirt says, “Teach me how to love.” Read at least one book on Loudoun School for Advanced Studies’ Social Justice reading list this summer. Regardless of your race, join the NAACP and listen. 

#3 Like the Pastor says, “Vote as if your life depended on it.” Change for the better depends on equality for all. 

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