“I always see my Bowdoin College sweatshirt as my armor,” said my grown son last Saturday. “When I go outside, I feel an extra sense of security if people visually associate me with a well-known educational institution.” As a young black man, he is accustomed to the constant, jarring specter of unprovoked, racially motivated violence and lives in a state of underlying vigilance. The recent racial injustices and violence are nothing new. In fact, the stories of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade – some of the latest tragedies of police brutality and over 400 years of racial violence against the black community – are the same stories with new names. This is just not right.
As an Asian American, I have had my share of experiencing overt and implicit racism. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no shortage of anti-Asian sentiment, even in the Bay Area where I live. However, the microaggressions and harassment that I have experienced pale in comparison to the experience of being black in America.
My friend Joel Gaines, the head of The City School in Philadelphia, said to me once that “compassion without action is only an observation.” In light of the horrific and deadly racial violence that we all have seen in recent weeks, I along with national colleagues from the Christian Educators Diversity Alliance and Mindshift in Christian Education were moved to prayer. Together, we lamented how most Christian schools have failed to lead in the fight against racial injustice; how we as a collective have been complicit with our silence in perpetuating our country’s insidious sin of racism – at the individual, interpersonal, and systemic levels. And, we prayed for God to open our hearts and minds to take action.
As we emerged from prayer, we felt called to initiate change. We felt compelled to help our fellow co-laborers in Christian schools to listen intently to the experiences of racism in black and brown communities. We also recognized the need to confess and repent individually AND collectively to the sins of silence or complicity with racism. So, we drafted an open letter and planned a panel conversation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “cheap grace is…a doctrine…a general truth…an intellectual assent…to secure the remission of sin; it is preaching of forgiveness without repentance.” In contrast, he writes, “costly grace is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”
As you read the Open Letter from Christian Educators on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in America and watch the panel conversation, you may wonder if you are able to sign the letter and commit to the work of racial justice. But, we call on you to count the cost and choose the costly grace when standing up for truth, for justice, and for the love of Christ and your fellow human beings.
It is Bonhoeffer in another place who says, “we are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheel of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
So, let us start driving a spoke into the wheel of racial injustice by educating ourselves thoughtfully, listening to our sisters’ and brothers’ experiences intently, and humbly reflecting on where we have each fallen short and where we can grow.
As Christian educators, let us all go to our Father in heaven and seek His face. As the scripture has taught us, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Let us collectively lament for the grievous losses of life, reflect on how we can individually and collectively pursue justice and mercy in our schools and relationships to undo racism and systemic oppression, and ask God to help us to engage authentically and effectively to transform brokenness into beautiful wholeness.
Christ, have mercy,
Michael Chen, Ed.D.
(On behalf of Jenny Brady, Tia Gaines, Joel Gaines, Joel Hazard, David Robinson, and Lynn Swaner)
Dr. Michael Chen has been an educator for over 20 years in the San Francisco and Boston areas with experiences in urban education, international education, school leadership, cultural formation, and organizational development. His school leadership experience includes serving as the superintendent at a PK-12 school in CA, dean of faculty at a diverse school in Boston, and the founding director of Trinity Institute for Leadership and Social Justice, an integrative service learning and leadership development program for high school youth in Boston. Currently, he serves as the head of school at Pacific Bay Christian School. For his doctoral work, Michael developed a system-theory of resilience to further understand human development in the context of war-affected widows in Nepal. In addition, he also provided consultative services to schools and organizations in South Korea, Nepal, and India in areas of leadership, monitoring and evaluation, and also managed a tuition-free school for widows and disadvantaged women in Kathmandu, Nepal. He served on the boards of Hope Initiatives in Nepal and Christian Coalition for Educational Innovation in the US. He was a recipient of 2012 US Presidential Scholar Teacher Recognition Award and has published several online articles and a book chapter on student leadership development. Lastly, he did his undergraduate studies in Physics and American Literature at UC Berkeley, masters work in international educational development, and doctorate in educational policy and leadership at Boston University.