The following blog was contributed by Kathy Mears, Interim President/CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) in Arlington, VA.
Doug, Desmond, April, Michael, Kenisha, Eric, Aaron, James, Tiffany, Jennifer, Derek, Megan, Elizabeth, Adam, Linda, Reggie, Jamie, Matt, Kenny, Keri. These are the names of some of the students I have taught or was principal for during my 39 years in Catholic education. Some were black, some were white, and some were brown. They were all taught and cared for by my colleagues and me.
The actions of the last week have saddened me. My former students are upset, afraid and don’t know what to do. They were taught to respect each other, to work together, to show kindness in all things. Yet, they are living in a world that judges them not so much by what they do or how they live their lives, but by the color of their skin.
I am frustrated that in 2020, we aren’t doing better. As a child, I remember the riots of 1967, 1968 and 1970. I remember the people walking side by side asking for a better world. I also remember the anger and how some demonstrations became destructive. Fifty years later, I worry we have learned nothing.
Racism is a sin. It is wrong. As educators, it is something we can work against, but more importantly, we can teach our students that God made each of us and loves each of us. It is up to each of us to set an example of how to act and to teach our students that the color of one’s skin simply does not matter.
For those of us in Catholic education, where nationally almost 30 percent of our students come from minority communities, we can continue to work for peace, by working for justice. We can continue to teach students that they are all worthy, that they are all loved. We can show our students who will go on to become nurses, doctors, engineers, pilots, maintenance workers, police officers, teachers, farmers, miners, military personnel, attorneys, computer programmers, priests, sisters, and mothers and fathers that each of us is responsible for our own behaviors and that when we judge others by the color of their skin and not by their character, we are part of the problem.
As educators, we are in the position to make a huge difference. We are given the opportunity to teach that all people matter, that all people must be treated with dignity and respect, that it is through community that we will build the kingdom of God on earth. I pray that we won’t waste our opportunities to make a difference. I pray that we make sure that each of the students in our care know that they are known, that they are loved.
Catholic education can make a difference in this area and we should lead the way. Let’s commit ourselves to teaching our students that prejudice is wrong, that we must live the Gospel message to love one another and that we must forgive each other as we will inevitably make mistakes. But with the hope of our faith, we can be the leaders God asks us to be. We can be the teachers we hope to be, and we can be the peacemakers our world needs.
Let’s get started today. We owe it to our students.