Last year, high school students read a biography of Claudette Colvin, an unsung hero of the civil rights movement who, as a teenager, defied injustice by refusing to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger – spontaneously, without support from any organization, and before Rosa Parks had taken her famous stand. Our study of the book culminated in a half-day of events exploring racial justice from a Biblical perspective, with special speakers, workshops, and group discussions.
In their written feedback after the event, students raised one consistent request: we want to do this again, for a longer duration, and in greater depth!
So, that’s what we did this year.
Throughout the first semester, a group of faculty, students, a parent, and a guest expert collaborated to organize another racial justice event – this time, nearly a week long. It was designed to be interactive, celebratory, and thought-provoking, with these purposes:
a) To reaffirm our unity as a school and as the Body of Christ.
b) To rediscover God’s heart of shalom for human relationships, both interpersonal and corporate, as revealed in the Bible and enacted through the Gospel.
c) To acknowledge some ways that the fabric of shalom is torn – in particular, ways that racial injustices continue to harm people and to mar God’s design.
d) To discover ways we can work together to repair that fabric.
e) To expand our capacity for understanding, empathy, and love; and, in the process,
f) To strengthen our unity as a school and as the Body of Christ.
In so doing, we hoped that our school and our students would become more skilled in conducting constructive dialogue about important, complex issues – a skill that we believe is at the heart of “cultivating culture changers” who will “lead by serving in every arena of society with passion, skill, integrity, and faith,” in the words of our strategic plan and vision statement.
Now that this important event has occurred and we have had time to reflect on its significance and efficacy, we thought you’d be interested to read a bit about the week and possible plans for the future.
The week started with two days of a regular class schedule in which teachers were invited to pair topics regarding racial justice with their particular subjects. It was exciting to see how creatively many teachers approached this challenge! Science classes brought the issue into the present by looking at the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. In both language and history classes, invited guests and students co-facilitated discussions and activities related to race and the immigrant experience. In English classes students read poetry by black poets or learned about activists like Malcolm X. It was encouraging to witness the enthusiasm generated by these varied experiences. Additionally, during mentor groups on Tuesday, students were given the opportunity to generate questions they might ask at the discussion panel later in the week. All in all, it was a great way to begin our journey.
On the following day the energy and pace began to gain momentum. The day started with an opening celebration featuring music and refreshments in the Fellowship Room of Barrington Baptist Church. From there we gathered in the sanctuary to hear music from the choir and a talk by our keynote speaker the Reverend Shavon Starling-Lewis, co-pastor at Providence Presbyterian Church. Reverend Shavon’s message was infused with both straightforward honesty about racism and Jesus’ loving message of inclusivity. Another highlight on Wednesday was a dramatic workshop in which students created skits that portrayed the different forms of racism: internalized, interpersonal, institutional, and structural. We finished the day viewing segments of the film Traces of the Trade which reveals the history of slavery in Bristol, Rhode Island.
By Thursday students and teachers were deeply immersed in the issue of racism and its varied manifestations. Two workshops in the morning gave students opportunities to explore their own thoughts, feelings, and identities regarding race. In one workshop they created zines that helped them reflect on what they had learned thus far and how they might use this knowledge to fight racial injustice. In the other workshop they pondered their own ethnic identities and the ways those identities impact their daily lives. In the months of planning that led up to this week, students on the planning committee had specifically requested time when students could meet in small groups or spend time alone independent of adult guidance or input. So, in the afternoon that time was provided and it was so exciting and impressive to see how students approached this time of freedom with an attitude of serious maturity. As the day came to a close we gathered in the sanctuary for a final discussion panel that consisted of students, teachers, and visiting experts. Students had the opportunity to ask questions and voice opinions freely. The atmosphere during the discussion was one of mutual respect and sincere desire for change.
As the week drew to a close on Friday, some teachers chose to continue the conversations started throughout the week and to provide time for reflection about the week. On the whole we sensed that the BCA high school community had benefitted considerably from this week devoted to exploring racial justice. We were given a greater awareness of the injustices that still lurk in our broken world. We were reminded that we, as followers of Christ, are called upon to be agents for change and advocates for justice. Being ignorant of the truth is not an option for us. This new awareness gives us eyes to identify the injustice and a new vocabulary with which to discuss it. We hope that in the months and years ahead this Racial Justice Week will bear fruit in many forms as students and other members of our community feel called to action. As a Christian community we feel committed to our social responsibility and look forward to learning about other forms of injustice in the world and ways we can be partners with our brothers and sisters in opposition to it.
Many thanks to all the students and faculty who participated so thoughtfully in this event; to the students who helped plan the event; to Mrs. Wright for her strong commitment and support; to Marco McWilliams and Afi Rougeau for helping us through the entire process with wisdom and generosity; to the faculty committee members who invested many, many hours into this work; and to BCA high school parents for their support. Thanks especially to our Savior who is Truth, and to his Spirit who teaches us and reminds us of what we have learned.
Ramona Brown, Sean Hunley, Susie Mack, Pamela Poniatowski