As if middle school isn’t hard enough, as a student of color I started attending a predominantly white Christian school in sixth grade. All of a sudden I was inundated with Bible stories. And you know how kids read themselves into Biblical stories? They see themselves as a young David slinging a rock at Goliath and taking down the giant, or they imagine themselves as Peter getting out of the boat and walking on water to Jesus. Well, as a female, black student in this new environment, I struggled to see myself in the biblical narrative or, frankly, in any narrative at all.
For one thing, I felt as if I moved in two different worlds. At school and at church, the only references to “justice” were about justice for the unborn and God’s sense of justice for sin being satisfied through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. But in my neighborhood and in the news, I heard calls for justice for women, for the poor, and yes, for people of color. Was there any overlap between these worlds?
As I grew older, I began to notice the efforts my school made to address these societal concerns. Their efforts weren’t perfect, but they were trying. As a freshman in the upper school, I started attending our diversity club called the G.R.A.C.E. Council. (G.R.A.C.E. stands for Gender, Race, Age & Ability, Culture, Economic Status.) The goals of G.R.A.C.E. were to better educate ourselves and the student body in regard to these five topics, cultivating an environment that allows for dialogue within the student body that is glorifying to God.
The conversations in G.R.A.C.E. helped me wrestle with these important issues from a biblical perspective. The world was screaming about these same issues but without God’s Word as their guide. Outside of G.R.A.C.E., I didn’t hear many conversations about justice, equality, or love that connected God’s Word to the world in which we lived, so I was hungry to learn. Through this program I came to recognize Jesus’ cry for holistic justice and how as a follower of Christ I was called to advocate for the oppressed. These lessons gave me a renewed faith in the totality of the Scriptures. To be honest, this opportunity pulled me out of a disillusionment with a Christianity that seemed irrelevant until I realized that it wasn’t.
The G.R.A.C.E. Council not only gave me clarity, it provided community as well. I learned how important it was for me, as a young black woman, to listen to the views and opinions of others if I expected others to listen and appreciate my own story. G.R.A.C.E. gave me connection–a way to take what I was feeling and learning and connect it to real people and real problems in the world.
As my head knowledge began to match my heart’s passion on these issues, I began to find my voice as well. Hope arose that I fit into the story of our Christian past and the story of our future–that I have a place and a purpose in our world, even when I am in situations where I am a minority. Eventually I became president of G.R.A.C.E. I realized the important role I can play in shaping the narrative for my generation on justice issues. If I want to see change, I need to be the change that I desire.
My experience with G.R.A.C.E. taught me that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs are beneficial to students and educators of all colors. Such programs fit the purpose of Christian schools: to provide a gospel-focused environment where students can deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ. I would argue that one of the best ways to provide the space for this transformational process is through DEI student councils. Through such programs, schools can hear the experiences of students of colors and reevaluate certain practices to create a more inclusive and equitable environment. These conversations can be uncomfortable for all parties involved, but they will prove beneficial and worthy of your time, energy, and investment. I am a better student and a better person because of my experience with our G.R.A.C.E. Council. My desire is to take what I learned and live it out for the benefit of others around me.
This article is part of a series on diversity in the Christian school.