On several occasions this week I heard powerful stories that brought to light the richness of the diversity of our community and the depth of the humanity of the individuals who make it up.
On Wednesday I attended a first-time program created by members of Gann’s senior class in partnership with teachers and advisors of the Gann Inclusivity Committee (GIC), a group that works to ensure that our school is as equitable and inclusive as possible. Gann has always prided itself on building community out of diversity, rather than in spite of it. We have been a national and international leader in Jewish pluralism and have been on the forefront of the Jewish community’s work to fully include members of the LGBTQ community. We strive to develop in our students the intellectual and personal qualities needed to be in respectful, open, authentic relationships with people from different backgrounds than their own.
Our work in these areas is never finished, of course. We also have important work to do in other areas if we are going to be the best, most inclusive community possible and if we are going to prepare our students to thrive and lead in an increasingly diverse, global world. At this week’s special program, four courageous members of our senior class shared with their peers and teachers some of their experiences of being students-of-color at Gann and in the Jewish community. Sometimes, predominantly Ashkenazi American Jews forget the racial and ethnic diversity of the worldwide Jewish People, and we overlook the increasing number of people-of-color who are part of our community today. How do they experience our schools, our synagogues, being Jewish here in Greater Boston? How can each of us walk through the world with greater consciousness of our own racial identities, and how does that affect our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors toward one another and the world?
I am so grateful to these students for sharing their stories with maturity, confidence, and generosity of spirit. They created and facilitated break-out discussion groups and led our community in these early steps toward greater awareness and understanding of the experience of people-of-color in our community. This was an important start to more conversation and action for all of us.
The theme of hearing the stories of our diverse community continued for me last night at our orientation for incoming ninth grade parents. For the first time, I attended this event both as Head of School and as a new parent, so I had the privilege of meeting with other parents from my son’s advisor group. I was moved and inspired to see the range of backgrounds, nationalities, and religious and spiritual journeys of even this small sample size of our parent body.
Gann’s diversity has always been its strength, and this will continue if we work to better our understanding of one another and ourselves and to raise up the dignity of every person.
How we choose to relate to other human beings, especially those who are different from us, is not just about them and their dignity. When we listen with genuine openness and curiosity to the story of others, we not only humanize them but also get in closer touch with our own humanity.
As Ben Zoma famously teaches us in the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot (the Ethics of the Fathers), which we are reading during this period between Passover and Shavuot, to be wise is to constantly seek to learn something from every person. And to be respected and dignified is to give respect and bring dignity to other human beings. For Ben Zoma, being a wise, voracious learner, which we sometimes consider an intellectual capacity, is an ethical and spiritual capacity, as well. It is a stance toward other human beings and the world.
This stance of learning and this core value of kavod (respecting and actively caring about the dignity of every human being) are at the heart of our educational philosophy and our pluralism. How powerful, then, to see them embodied this week both by our seniors, who are preparing to go out into the world, and by our incoming parents, who are just about to begin their Gann journeys.