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Ancora Imparo: Spiritual Reflections to Combat Racism in Catholic Schools

As a Black male Catholic school educator and leader, ancora imparo–I am still learning. Every day that I wake up to fresh air in my lungs, I am presented with an opportunity to expand my knowledge, the capacity of my influence, and the impact of my instruction, especially in the current state of our country, laced with violence, hate, and systemic oppression. I have been thinking throughout my education and my career about how I could best use my voice to have a positive effect on the lives of my students, community, and the world. Recently, I have been wondering how I should respond to these heinous acts of police brutality against people of color and the requests of my White colleagues and friends for suggestions on how they support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Then I had one of those “Aha” lightbulb moments. What Would Jesus Do? Jesus would give the people scripture! Scripture animates my purpose, vision, and educational philosophy. It drives my “Why.” In Start with Why, Simon Sinek prompts the reader asking, “Why did we start doing what we’re doing in the first place, and what can we do to bring our cause to life considering all the technologies and market opportunities available today?” I get out of bed every morning to have a transformational impact on the lives of children and families through the power of music and theatre infused with love and joy. I encourage all Catholic school educators and leaders to return to their “Why?” Below you will find my version of “Who,What, When, Where, and Why” to respond to Racial and Social Injustice as it stands now, while ancora imparo.


I Corinthians 12:15-26

But as it is, there are many parts, but one body.

We all have a part to play. You, yes, you! No one is exempt. God has given each and every one of us unique talents, skills, interests, and abilities. The ball is in your court. Will you be selfish and use them for personal gain or will you invest them in society? Tolstoy says, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

In a TedTalk entitled “How to build your confidence and spark it in others,” Brittany Packnett says, “To get comfortable, we have to get uncomfortable.” There will be moments of tension–and that’s O.K. Everything worth having is worth fighting for. We have been customized by our creator to be a catalyst for change. God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.


Proverbs 22:6

Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.

Do not subscribe to the idea of “Keeping up with the Jones’s”–even when it comes to racial justice. Your response to these trying times won’t look the same as your best friend. Find your authentic voice outside of the cliché reaction of reposting on social media or asking your Black friends how they are doing. Like I said in the NCEA-sponsored panel discussion, “Be specific about what you seek to know and change.” Make it personal.

This process will require self-reflection, mindfulness, and being open to all the thoughts and feelings that may arise. Ask yourself the difficult questions like:

  • How have I fed into the idea and perpetuated the effects of white privilege?
  • How are my thoughts, words, actions, and character shaped by my environment?
  • How can I listen with the intention to understand without judgment?
  • What policies and curriculum implemented in my school advance or hinder racial justice?
  • If I am in a position to hire, what practices do I employ to ensure diversity within my staff?
  • Am I helping students learn from an early age that their voices, lived experiences and opinions are valuable?


Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.

The time is now! Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says, “The time is always right to do what is right.” Start now to call out your own preconceived notions about race and ethnicity. Racism isn’t always boisterous and forthcoming. Oftentimes, it presents itself as a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority, and defined as microaggression. For example, does one ask where a Latino person is from, hearing Texas, and proceeding to ask, “No, like what country?” Or how does one respond to the White colleague who is unknowingly offensive when they assert the microaggression that you must have access to the expensive gear to go skiing? (Both true stories btw.)

As I write this blog post, I am sipping from a mug I received as a gift from a student that says, “Teachers plant the seeds of tomorrow.” Embracing the challenge of dismantling racism is not a one-stop shop. There will be bumps and bruises along the road, but we cannot stop at any cost. “Courageous conversations” is a buzz term floating around, and it sounds good, but don’t be fooled; it ain’t so simple. It is an ongoing battle, and truly a spiritual, mental, and physical life-or-death situation in this moment. Yet the lessons we learn on the journey are more important than the final destination, which leads me to the next section.


Matthew 28:19-20

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.

I struggle with the idea of White people feeling unsafe in Black and Brown neighborhoods. How can you expect us to function in “your” environment with a sense of normalcy if you cannot do the same in “our” environment?

“Urban communities” and “underserved neighborhoods” are the sugarcoated ways of describing areas that are predominantly populated by Black and Brown families of lower socioeconomic status. Let’s call a thing a thing. These communities are not subservient. They are filled with rich customs, traditions and values. What they might lack in financial resources, they make up for with an abundant supply of resilience, tenacity and grit. In The Great Commission, Christ tells his followers to go into all nations. Like my friend Cara says, “We can’t pick and choose which people are worthy of our help.”

And don’t come to satisfy a White Savior Complex. White people with a desire to partner with Black and Brown families in the education of their children can be tainted when it is done in a self-serving manner. It is not a resume filler or a checkbox of a list of ways to combat the guilt tied to unmerited White privilege. Assess your motives and come for something deeper, that will transform all of us–which leads me to my final point.


I Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient, love is kind.

At my home church, Union Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it was a right of passage to travel with a small group of church members to the annual National Baptist Convention. Everyone was charged with identifying their favorite scripture verse or passage that would animate their “why” for being on the trip. Initially, I was overwhelmed by this task. Yes, I had grown up in the church and held bragging rights for being one of the first members (I beat a lot of adults) to accurately list and spell all the books of the Bible in chronological order. But this task was much more difficult than it seemed.

The scripture I landed on and eventually shared was Colossians 3:13-14: “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”

Our pastor had everyone share a personal scripture passage because God speaks to us all in differing capacities and revelations. Sure, he is trained and comfortable delivering a message to the people, but a good leader empowers others to do what they do in their own way.

Like that retreat, as educators, all we do–every policy, event, lesson plan, etc.–should stem from a shared mission and vision: We do it because we love them. We don’t have to have all the answers about how to do that, but we know God does. Through personal connection and individual relationships with him in scripture and prayer, He imparts infinite wisdom, and we produce the fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. These are the keys to overcoming the racism that devalues the image of God in others. We must access our faith to see people how Christ sees them. We love others because he first loved us.

I have been the victim and inflictor of racially charged biases on several occasions. White people, probably with good hearts, have unconsciously asserted microaggressions against me, and I have done the exact same. The key is to acknowledge those missed opportunities for human connection and ensure I am prepared for an alternative response in the future. God gave me a strong desire to connect different social groups, build bridges between the haves and the have nots and create spaces of psychological safety. This post is by no means the end of the conversation; it’s a spring board. My hope is that it points you in a clear direction of where to go next. I personally find rest and rejuvenation at the feet of Jesus. And if all else fails, you can borrow my “warm demander” life motto, “Slap ‘em with a smile.”

Vincent Hale teaches music at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem. He is pursuing a graduate degree in educational leadership in the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame and is an impact leader for Profound Gentlemen, an organization supporting male educators of color in creating a cradle to career pipeline for boys of color.