St. Louis native and Nobel Prize winning author T.S. Eliot once stated, “It is self-evident that St. Louis affected me more deeply than any other environment has ever done.” I, too, can say that the LORD is using St. Louis and its people to affect and change me more than any community I have ever experienced.
When I accepted this position over two years ago, I was thrilled to lead this amazing school. Even before visiting, Central’s reputation as an academically strong and culturally diverse school made it an exciting opportunity for my family and me. Having lived all over the country, I could confidently say that I enjoyed and appreciated diversity.
I arrived in the city one month before the Ferguson conflict erupted in 2014 to lead this community. It was then that I began to realize how much I still had to learn about the impact that racial differences have had, and continue to have on our culture. The unrest in our city opened the opportunity for conversations that I’d never had before, and realizations that I’d never experienced. I was so grateful to God for opening my eyes through these encounters.
Then, in an unexpected conversation this summer, a good friend of mine revealed to me how the title “Headmaster” might be a stumbling block to our African American families. The word “master” could bring a flood of negative connotations with the cruelties of slavery.
That was humbling to learn.
I have used the title “Headmaster” for fifteen years, and this had never crossed my mind. As a matter of fact, when I was introduced to the Central Christian School community two years ago, I discussed how the title came from the British school system with the idea of a “master teacher” serving over a group of highly qualified teachers. Thus, Headmaster.
No title is worth being unnecessarily hurtful or divisive. So this year, I shared with our faculty, staff, families, and Board why I would no longer be using this title, but instead “Head of School.”
The most important concept I shared with our school community, however, was not the changing of my title. The important message of my story was that if I were not in a loving, diverse community where friends with different perspectives could gently challenge me, I would still be using a title that could impede unity in our school.
Given the headlines over the past two years—from Ferguson to Baltimore to Charleston to Dallas to the events this week, I have experienced and observed emotions ranging from hopelessness and despair, anger and frustration, sadness and grief, confusion and defensiveness, apathy and avoidance. And while this is not my first encounter with pain or controversy, something about my proximity to Jesus-followers with different perspectives and experiences than my own has made this time different. The clarity of Scripture as the foundation of a diverse, just community has never been clearer to me.
I am convinced, more than ever before, that the grace of Jesus Christ should compel the Body of Believers to pursue justice for and unity with our neighbors.
Speaking of unity, our chapel theme this year is based on the Book of Ephesians, Chapter 4. Why unity?
First of all, we believe this theme aligns well with our previous two years’ themes on Courageous Conversations in 2014-15 and what it means to be true Peacemakers in 2015-16.
Secondly, with the most recent turbulent events in our nation, we believe the body of Christian believers needs to be unified now more than ever to present the only hope that matters—Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, this election year has found the U.S. greatly divided. Consider these statistics and analysis released this summer by the Associated Press entitled “Unity Not Seen As Likely”: “Some 85% of people regard the nation as more politically divided than in the past; 80% view Americans as being greatly divided on the most important values…The time is so unstable, its impossible to see the future.”
Given the current state of our country, we chose Ephesians 4:15-16 to be our annual school verses: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
My prayer is that the LORD will use our school to impact the hearts and minds of our students, faculty, staff, and families in unanticipated and palpable ways as we seek unity in the name of Jesus. Please join us.