Black History Month

SMUS-Views-Bob

Whenever I write about what happens in Chapel, I wonder: do people outside our community read the description and find themselves totally disoriented? Chapel? Are you serious? What planet are you on? What time warp are you stuck in?

So if you are such a person, please bear with me, and keep your mind open a crack. Not too much to ask around an institution whose purpose is to treat every mind as if it has the most precious potential for changing a life, and changing the world.

Today in Chapel, our black students took over, marched in, announced themselves proudly and shared their stories about what it meant to be black, to have a black history, and now, to have a black future. The theme of slavery was woven through the bits and pieces of word and song like the tortured, knotted and unbreakable thread that it is in the lives of these students and their families. Here is a taste: a boy from the Congo who grew up in South Africa and who looks forward one day, in a saner world, to going back to his Congolese village; a girl from Portland whose great uncle could remember a family member who was a freed slave, and who stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and recited Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech; girls who remembered from elementary school their song, “Something for me, something for you.” It was a great presentation, proud and powerful.

Every student who has been in our Junior School knows who Rosa Parks is. That is because every year in January or February I re-enact with them the story of her role in the Montgomery bus boycott. I do this because it is a great story, and because whenever anyone asks who my heroes happen to be, I ALWAYS mention Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. As it happens, last Friday was my opportunity to do this at Junior School assembly, and as always we had a great time. The students get entirely into it, and can’t wait to come and sit on the bus behind me (I use one of those old wooden gym benches as the bus), until we finally get to Rosa Parks. I always ask a Grade 5 girl to be Rosa Parks, because she has seen the story before, and knows exactly what to do. She (Rosa Parks) refuses to sit at the back but takes the only available seat at the front, reserved for the white people, because she is tired, because she is fed up with the fundamental injustice of it all, and because it is time to take a stand and endure the consequences. It is not only thought-provoking for them, but we have a great time, and they go back to their classes all wired up, a state of affairs for which I apologize to their teachers.

Today’s Chapel just expanded that circle, added lots more texture to all the stories of injustice challenged, and nourished all our minds. Yes, a ripple in time, not a warp.

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Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden was Head of School at St. Michaels University School for 22 years, from 1995-2017.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Your writing is always superb Bob…add a moving story, incorporate your students thoughts and voila…another great read! Thanks. Nancy from Portland

  2. So incredibly moving and beautifully written. Our chapel is a perfect setting for self expression and freedom of that expression as well!

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