The ongoing conversation about race and diversity may be making some within our network of Christian schools uncomfortable. Perhaps you look at your school and do not “see” the need to push a conversation that does not seem to be relevant. Maybe your community is homogeneous in colour, ethnicity, church denomination, and even social economic standing. Of course you react with negativity towards the militant stands taken by some groups shared on your social media news feeds, and understandably you want no part of that kind of action. But if you are like me, you may wonder how these things could happen in the first place. What is the story behind the story? Books like The Colour of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, How to Fight Racism, Unconscious Bias in Schools by Tracey Benson, and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, are just a few ways that I am currently using to educate myself towards a deeper understanding of the racial issue. A few other key book titles are noted below, with thanks to Heidi Blockland, principal of Timothy Christian School in Williamsburg, Ontario for her recommendations. I have come to realize that for change to happen around me, change needs to begin within me.
Like me, you may feel unsettled as you reflect on the commands of scripture to bring hope and justice to the world in the name of Christ, and wonder how we are to do that from our safe and privileged vantage point. What does Love require that I do? Something I recently read gave me pause and challenged my complacency, provoking me to do some honest soul searching: “The church, God’s main vehicle for sharing the Good News, is too often inept, self-absorbed, and divided. Though Jesus surely delights when His people walk in his ways of love, are there times He also weeps over us. Might He be saying about us, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!’ (Luke 19:41-42)” (Life for Leaders – DePree Center)
By not gently yet deliberately pushing our school communities to grow in their understanding of the need for diversity, inclusion, and belonging, are we part of the “inept and self-absorbed” church? Those are labels I do not want. Instead, I want to be courageous, helping bring about change and understanding in my community even if the conversation is uncomfortable. As we learn and grow as leaders in regards to this issue, God will provide us with wisdom. Kouzes and Posner, in The Truth About Leadership, share that “What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems. Sometimes leaders have to shake things up. Other times they just have to grab hold of the adversity that surrounds them. Whether the challenge comes from the inside or the outside, leaders make things happen. Leadership and challenge are simply inseparable.” (p.94)
Let’s remember, that as school leaders, we are charged with teaching the next generation, and so it is up to us to ensure they are more than “colour blind”. We want them to be racially aware, racially respectful, and racially inclusive, and see diversity as a gift from God. Maybe that is where we begin.
Marianne Vangoor is the Leader in Residence at Edvance.
Recommendations for the readers in our midst:
How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice by Jemar Tisby - a book with some practical action steps that can promote racial equity
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson - Stevenson outlines 4 things we need to do to begin to change our own thinking: change the narrative, do uncomfortable things, get close to brokenness, and stay hopeful
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo - a great book to read to start to contemplate our own biases and avoidance of talking about race. It gives some context to why this is such an uncomfortable situation and challenges the reader to start/continue this journey towards racial justice.
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson - this book helps the reader to understand the history of racism (particularly in the US) and see the legacy of what has happened