Letter from Birmingham Jail Panel with Faculty
Today the faculty and staff gathered at Trinity for our opening meeting. We always focus on some key issues for the year, and today we hunkered down on the issue of diversity.
The entire faculty had read Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail for our faculty summer read. It seemed like a wise choice at the end of a long year that started with Ferguson and just kept going. And then came Charleston.
We invited a moderator and three panelists to help us "read" King's classic text anew. (I spent a few minutes with the faculty explicating the "classic" nature of King's letter, unpacking its thickness, adaptability, and publicness. See our Expanded Mission Statement--it has all three in abundance.)
Melvin Rosales, from Nicaragua, spoke passionately about the relevance of King's letter to the Hispanic community. He did a powerful rewrite of King's eloquent prose in his own voice, with his own story embedded. No one who heard him could walk away and think that racism is dead and gone and that issues of injustice are things of the past.
David Molpus, a friend from way back, former National Public Radio correspondent, spoke powerfully of his father's courageous stance as a white Baptist minister in Mississippi in the 1950s and 1960s. He lost his job for standing up against segregation. "I like to think that my Dad was one of the rare exceptions King talked about," said David.
Sharon Laisure also spoke on the panel. She has experience in organizational development and human resource management with more than 30 years of executive level experience primarily in local government management. Sharon spoke about her own story and then presented Trinity with several challenges and opportunities, ranging from hiring and recruitment practices to diversity dinners to pursuing relationships with people who are different.
Perrianne Davis, Trinity alumna parent and former board member, moderated the panel.
Perrianne knows Trinity well. She offered an important perspective that surprised me. Reading King's letter was hard for me this summer. Good, but hard. I easily imagined myself as one of the white moderates that King was challenging, and I wondered how he would challenge me today. (My remarks to the faculty and staff arose from this posture--I talked about repentance, about Paul's story of his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road). Perrianne reminded us all that though we have a long way to go, Trinity has taken clear and strong action on this issue. Our Diversity Policy is unique and uncompromising. Today's panel shows our willingness to dive into these issues (there were some clear moments of discomfort, which is a good sign). As she talked, I could imagine Trinity, with all of our challenges (why not more families of color by now?) as a sort of headlight (to grab one of King's powerful metaphors), trying to shine into the fogginess that we all find ourselves in. We have so far to go, but several people commented on the distance we have come.
It's good to give thanks for that here at the beginning of a year when we intend to keep working this, stretching our institution to be more welcoming, learning to be the kind of place that supports families of color who choose Trinity for their children. I think it was a morning well spent, and I am very grateful to our Diversity Coordinator, Adrienne Davis, who coordinated this and to our panelists who gave us so much time.