February Rapp Up

We all face challenges in our spiritual life. A common one for many is that it is hard to know whether we are “hearing” God or not, a topic Mr. Rockford spoke about beautifully before our January All-School Mass. “Consistency” is a simple principle that my spiritual director once gave me for discerning whether or not something is from God. If it’s of the world, an idea or thought will often be fleeting, or might be contradicted in prayer or by the people or events around you. If it’s of God, it will fit, it will match reality, and usually it will come from a variety of sources.

A consistent message that we have received as a school (and, it would seem, as an Archdiocese and nation), is that God is calling us to examine anew the issue of racism.

As an administrative staff, we have been talking about the question of race and ethnicity in our building for a long time. We all know St. James is a predominantly white school in a suburban area. That is not to say that is good or bad, right or wrong: it is simply our reality. It has always been important for us to acknowledge that reality, because when many people in the same community have similar backgrounds and experiences, there can be missing perspectives and ideas that are important for students to engage with. If this engagement doesn’t occur naturally in the course of the day, we have a duty to work to find other ways for students to expand their understanding of the world around them and develop their ability to work within our increasingly globalized world and Church.

Already there are many things happening in our building in this regard. In particular, our Theology, History, Art, and English classes provide opportunities to learn about the history of racism in our country and to hear stories and interact with art from a variety of viewpoints relating personal experiences of racism. Our Christian Stewardship Program often pushes kids outside of their comfort zones to serve a variety of people within a variety of situations. In addition to service, some of our new Career Explorations classes are creating more opportunities for our students to learn in demographically diverse places or hear from perspectives they otherwise might not have.

But it has been on our hearts to go deeper. Two and a half years ago, our leadership team engaged an outside consultant, Dr. Bernard Franklin, to help guide us. Dr. Franklin was at that time working as Special Assistant to the President and Vice-President at Kansas State University and had extensive experience working with schools on issues of race. He is a faithful Catholic man, a convert actively engaged in many ways within our Archdiocese at that time.

We talked through our desire to deepen the learning of our students, and perhaps even more importantly, to ensure that students of color feel comfortable in our building and are always treated with respect. We asked for his advice on what best steps might be: Do we convene a committee? Do we start a program? Do we reexamine our policies?

His advice was challenging. He told us to start with ourselves.

So Mr. Tylicki, Mrs. Nearmyer, and I have been on a two-plus year journey of prayer, reading, and discussion, examining our own implicit biases and understanding of how racism continues to impact people in our community. To be honest, it has been a beautiful but heart-breaking journey that has demanded some rigorous honesty with myself and my God, a journey I will forever be grateful for.

As we went through that journey, we knew the next step was to begin a similar conversation with our staff. We thought this was the right time, as our students had chosen “Come As You Are” as our theme for this school year, and so often God speaks to us through our students. We wanted to expand our openness to the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding, and we thought the theme to be an invitation to do so.

We created a game plan for the year, and lo and behold, our Lord gave much confirmation that this was His project, not ours. The US Bishops released their pastoral letter on racism in November, and multiple other ministries in the Archdiocese hosted events for racial healing and understanding in our city. Our Archbishop also addressed the topic in a recent Leaven article as he commemorated Black History Month.

Confident that God was calling us to learn and grow, this January our staff went on the “Dividing Lines” tour of Kansas City, an audio-tour relating parts of the history of segregation and racism in our area. Before getting on the buses, we received an overview of and reflection on the Bishops’ document from Monsignor Tom Tank, and then had an opportunity to decompress the experience when we returned. Then on our February staff in-service, we continued the discussion, sharing what we already do as a staff related to education on issues of race and ethnicity and in support of our students of color, as well as sharing ideas about what our next steps could be.

They were powerful conversations, and there will be opportunities for us to engage our parents and students on this topic in the future. However, we had to start with the adults in our building, that incredible group of witnesses with whom I am blessed to work. We had to acknowledge some weakness and our inability to “fix” such a complicated issue immediately. This continues to force a reliance on the grace of Jesus to work through our weakness to achieve His purposes in our building.

We ask for your prayers for our staff and students, for a deeper understanding of what God wants to do here at St. James and our broader community, and for healing by means of the grace and mercy of God of all the brokenness that surrounds us. I would also encourage you to read the Bishop’s document, found at this link here, and to perhaps share and discuss the letter with your child and/or each other.

Your brother in Christ,