Our response to the NYT article on Charlottesville Schools
Oct 30, 2018|Written By: Nathan Walton
At Abundant Life we are committed to neighborhood-based ministry that reflects Jesus’ own incarnational life. For us, this has involved living among, learning from, and investing in the lives of those in closest proximity to us. Yet these relationships with individuals and families in the Prospect Neighborhood inevitably connect us with larger issues in our city and country that directly affect our neighbors. As many of you are aware, one recent example of this has been a recent New York Times article, which engages the issue of racial inequity with respect to Charlottesville City Schools.
This article recounts the journeys of two African American young ladies and the disparity in the challenges and opportunities that they each encountered. These issues and stories are very near to us at Abundant Life, as both young ladies formerly participated in some of our programs and we have partnered with Charlottesville City Schools for over a decade. We know that the families we work with have encountered opportunities as well as obstacles as they have navigated the school system. While not every student has had the negative experiences highlighted by the article, many have, and even one is too many.
Our tutoring families have given us partial responsibility in educating their children, and part of that responsibility is to advocate on our students’ behalf. We have sat in on IEP meetings and parent-administrator conferences to be an extra set of ears and voice, and our high school mentoring program (STRIVE) connects mentors with their students’ counselors to make sure they are taking the right courses to achieve their goals. Yet the article initiated internal discussions of where we have fallen short and how we can better support our families.
To Charlottesville City Schools’ credit, they are taking the issues raised in the article seriously and responding with greater transparency, surveys, and community forums. Members of our staff and board are attending the forums to listen and learn. While implicit bias and systemic injustice will always be a part of this fallen world, we are hoping these efforts will lead to a more equitable education system for students in our city and neighborhood.
At Abundant Life we want to resist the temptation to rush to “success” stories or other narratives that might assuage our collective conscience and blind us from fully grappling with the reality that all do not have equal access and opportunity. My hope is that it is in the midst of acknowledging the reality of the work that remains undone, that our longing to see God’s redemption will move us to a holy restlessness. Perhaps this holy restlessness, rooted in the conviction that God desires better for our communities and rooted in our commitment to join that work, will move us closer to seeing everyone experience the Abundant Life we each desire for ourselves.
In the words of an ancient Franciscan benediction,
“May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.
Thank you for your partnership in this work, and may God direct, enliven, and sustain our efforts through the power of his Holy Spirit.