As an educational leader, the past few months have challenged us in ways we could never have imagined. Amidst a pandemic, historical political controversy, and social unrest, I have been sustained by the long history, mission, and values of Quaker education. The tenets of Quakerism believe in the content of my character and not the complexion of my skin. My personal journey in Friends education transformed me into a passionate educator, able to work with children and families from different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. The Quaker commitment to the ideals of equality allowed me to become the first African American teacher hired at New Garden Friends School and eventually its first upper school head. Several years later I became the first African American to head High Point Friends School.
There is a famous religious saying. “Faith is daring the soul to go beyond what the eyes can see.” I admire this saying because it represents eternal hope even in the face of adversity when presumably all hope is lost. Despite the hope I receive from my faith and the support of Friends communities, I am still torn knowing that systemic racism has been ingrained in our country for so many years. For 50 years, my eyes have seen countless examples of African Americans and people of color marginalized as humans and considered irrelevant by the dominant white culture in our society. I have felt the pain as a member of the oppressed minority group with a sense of helplessness.
Tragically, violence against people of color has a long history in our nation, and incidents ranging from the homicide of George Floyd in May, the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in March, the killing of Trayvon Martin eight years ago, to white supremacists marching in Charlottesville in 2017 and the recent shooting of Jacob Blake serve as painful reminders that not all people feel equally safe in our society.
Working in Friends education gives me hope for the future. Here I can see the Quaker testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Equality, Community and Stewardship inspiring our students to envision a world dedicated to service and compassion for the less fortunate, and committed to living together in a diverse world with an emphasis on and understanding of respect and civility.
Every day, our teachers approach their work seeking that of God, or what we also call the Inner Light in every student. We seek a deep sense of equality and appreciation for one another, which goes well beyond surface impressions or quick judgments. As a Friends school, we affirm the right of diverse voices to be heard. As a school community, we seek to oppose racism and injustice. We also recognize with humility that we have our own ongoing work to do as a community and to learn how to best serve society as a whole.
Friends education has been my rock in the midst of a global pandemic, economic insecurity, and social unrest. One of our students thanked us (High Point Friends School) for reopening our campus for in-person instruction. The student said to me, “It means so much to be able to attend this school and I am grateful for all the opportunities to be in a nurturing community filled with teachers that are our mentors and role models”.
The lived experiences of our students are an essential ingredient in preparing them to live in harmony within strengthening their flexibility and adaptability in a global world. Educating a young mind is a serious endeavor that requires a school family that creates a safe, nurturing, and challenging academic environment where students and teachers are collaborators. Friends education encourages critical thinkers and visionary leaders with a desire to serve others which gives us all hope for a better tomorrow.