By Mrs. Wilson
How will history look at me? When I was in high school and learning about world events of the past like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement, I regularly thought about what I would have been doing during those times. Would I have been hiding someone in my basement to help them evade Nazi capture? Would I have been marching in the streets protesting the mistreatment of people of color? While it is hard to know exactly what I would have done, I am living in a time not unlike the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. There IS a cultural genocide happening in my lifetime. There IS a civil rights movement happening in my lifetime. So, really the question is, what am I doing right now? When those of the future look back at me, will I have done enough?
This summer, as the tensions in cities big and small grew, a part of my heart finally activated. I have always been very academic about this topic. Even still, I read articles and books, dive into podcasts and discuss with the friends I know think like me. This all reinforces my worldview. We commiserate over the injustices of our world and do little else. I know I will receive little if any pushback from certain friends, and so, I regularly engage with them in conversations about this topic. However, they are my echo chamber. They never challenge my thoughts or beliefs and let me complain endlessly without expecting action. This summer, that changed. I realized that as an educator, I need to do that and much, much more.
On June 11, 2020, I decided that while I work with amazing humans, we all have room for growth. My growth needed to come in the space of people who I know care deeply and are willing to put in the work. I emailed the entire faculty and staff inviting them to share in this with me by way of a multi-media study group. We would have assigned readings, podcasts, or movies, and then we would get together virtually and talk about them. Come to find out, many of my colleagues, the people you see every day here at Viz, were just as anxious to talk about these topics! The response has been tremendous. We met each week over the summer on Thursdays for an hour each time. During the school year, we have scaled back our meeting time to thirty minutes, but we still have meetings each week.
To date, an overwhelming majority of the faculty, staff, and administration who work at Visitation Academy of St. Louis have signed up to participate in these talks and have turned those talks into action. Here are just some of the amazing things we have accomplished:
Donated desks to schools who needed to update their spaces to be more socially distanced
Assessed processes and policies of our school that do not reflect our desires for diversity, equity, and inclusion
Discussed and role played ways to handle microaggressions in our classrooms
Committed to meeting each week to discuss happenings in our classrooms and current events relevant to this topic
Evaluated our curriculums to ensure they are moving in a direction that supports this work
Admitted to our own failings in this work and lifted each other up to do better
This list is in no way comprehensive, but our work is far from complete. In fact, the very nature of this work is that it is ongoing and we must continue to work at it no matter how busy the school year becomes. I am so humbled by the people I work with who have truly committed themselves to this calling. We are working to make ourselves, this school community, and our world a better place. When history looks back on us, I hope it will say that a group of educators in St. Louis truly made a difference. Are you a faculty or staff member who is interested? Email me! Are you a student looking to participate in similar work? Email me! The sin of racism is one the Catholic Church calls on us to address. A quote that has long guided me as I think about this work comes from Elie Wiesel, author of the Holocaust memoir Night, and his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1986. He said, "We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." The side I am choosing to take is that of justice.
I will end with the prayer written by Mrs. Jessica Helling which we say at the beginning of each discussion.
Visitation Salesian Conversation Centering Prayer
“Before prayer we must always rouse ourselves to think and consider attentively this presence of God...Hence, when you come to prayer, say with all your heart and to your heart: O my heart, my heart, God is truly here” -St. Francis de Sales
Let us place ourselves in the presence of God.
God, we know you are truly here with us, and we trust that it is your will in this moment that we are gathered together in this space. The love of Jesus Christ urges us on and our school’s mission calls us to this important work. We thank you for the gift of our charism to guide how we are to proceed. We lean in and bring all that we are to this moment, doing our best to free ourselves of distraction, lest we should miss out on the gift you have waiting for us in the present moment. We ask for the grace to learn from this conversation what it is you will for us to learn. We ask for your assistance in proceeding with gentle and humble hearts so that we may share and receive our thoughts in a spirit of love, view any disagreements or challenging statements as an opportunity to grow, and welcome a necessary diversity of ideas and opinions. We ask that you increase the virtue of humility in each of us so we can approach this space with a listening heart, willing to learn from one another in love rather than prove that our idea or opinion is the answer. We ask for the assistance to assume each person’s best intention in order to build a community of charity, where vulnerability, mistakes, and statements that challenge our community are welcomed and celebrated for the sake of love. Help us to remain aware of your presence with and in each of us as we proceed. We ask that this may be a space where, in imitation of Mary and Elizabeth at the Visitation, we can both share and receive the love you freely give and where we may find consolation and joy in the ability to process and make sense of God’s will together.
May this conversation serve to more deeply engrave our “holy, sacred maxim, Live Jesus” on our hearts in order that we become more conformed to Christ through it.
In our every thought, word, and action… Live, Jesus, Live.
St. Francis and St. Jane… pray for us.