An Open Letter Regarding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Kennedy Catholic

Dear Kennedy Catholic Community,

Over the past two years, our school has faced a series of challenges that would shake any community to its core. We have listened to our students and families of color share their experiences that are incongruent with our values and aspirations. We have struggled to reconcile the tensions between our identity as a Catholic school, official Church teaching, and the reality of operating in a modern, diverse, and pluralistic society. At the same time, these events have coincided with growing social and civic unrest fueled by disruptions from a once-in-a-century global pandemic, a growing awareness of the inherent racial inequities throughout American society, and a discordant political environment.

In this context, it would be understandable to disengage and withdraw, or to invest your time and energy elsewhere. Yet, you have remained committed to our school and hopeful that we will rise to the moment. It is this collective testament to hope that inspires me to write to you today - to share how Kennedy Catholic will learn from these events to become the school we aspire to be, and to reaffirm our commitment to providing a school community where our diverse student body can learn together in a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment.

Kennedy Catholic’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

“Your friendship with one another and your presence here remind everyone that the future is not monochrome; if we are courageous, we can contemplate it in all the variety and diversity of what each individual person has to offer. How much our human family needs to learn to live together in harmony and peace, without all of us having to be the same! We were not mass-produced on an assembly line. Each one comes from the love of their parents and their family, and so each of us is different, each one has a story to share.”

- Pope Francis, November 25, 2019, Tokyo, Japan

Our commitment to embracing a diverse population is not new. It is written into our mission statement: 

It is the mission of Kennedy Catholic to graduate leaders following Christ in a school community that is accessible, diverse and committed to pursuing the fullest potential of every student.

It is also at the very heart of our identity as a Catholic school. Central to our faith is the belief that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and, therefore, possesses an inherent, inviolable dignity.

Ensuring that our school is a community where students of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, identities, and abilities are welcomed, nurtured, supported, and challenged is essential to accomplishing the mission for which we exist.    

The Place of Race in Our Work

“Racism is a moral problem that requires a moral remedy—a transformation of the human heart—that impels us to act. The power of this type of transformation will be a strong catalyst in eliminating those injustices that impinge on human dignity.” 

- Open Wide Our Hearts, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Our commitment to building a diverse, inclusive, and equitable school community involves all dimensions of difference that comprise who we are. Yet, our nation’s history, the pervasive inequities across all dimensions of society experienced by people of color, the clarion call for justice from our brothers and sisters of color, and our collective inability to discuss these issues productively obligate us to center race in our work. 

Last week’s insurrection in Washington, DC exposes the danger posed specifically by the forces motivated by racial animus and committed to white supremacy. Never in my life would I have imagined seeing a mob of predominantly white Americans storm the nation’s Capitol Building under the banner of the Confederacy, while proudly wearing anti-Semitic t-shirts celebrating Nazi concentration camps. Yet, this is our current reality, and it can no longer be dismissed as an irrelevant fringe minority. It is imperative we provide our students with opportunities, tools, skills, and resources so we may begin the process of true racial reconciliation in this country.

Our Call

When we are faced with change, it is typically easier to look externally rather than internally. While we are called to work for a more just and equitable society, we must also turn our attention to what we can do here at Kennedy Catholic to build a more inclusive and equitable community. As a Catholic school, we have a primary mission to educate our students; and it is in service to this mission that we will accomplish what we desire. We are called to relationship.

“This is something beautiful that you can offer to our world. Young people need to give something to the world. Bear witness that a 'social friendship,' friendship among yourselves, is possible! Put your hope in a future based on the culture of encounter, acceptance, fraternity and respect for the dignity of each person, especially those most in need of love and understanding. Without sensing the need to attack or despise others, but learning instead to recognize their gifts.”

- Pope Francis, November 25, 2019, Tokyo, Japan

Pope Francis has repeatedly highlighted the fundamental call to communion with one another and creation throughout his papacy. It is through this relationship and the recognition of the inherent dignity of every individual that we begin our work to be more welcoming, inclusive, and equitable. While we remain committed to the promotion of a unified Kennedy Catholic community where we are all Lancers at the heart, we also must ensure that we embrace the wide range of talents, abilities, backgrounds, passions, and identities of those we are privileged to serve. Dialogue is essential to this work, and Kennedy Catholic is promoting its 12 Keys to Effective Communication to build these skills among our community members.  

We are called to conversion through education 

 “What is needed, and what we are calling for, is a genuine conversion of heart, a conversion that will compel change, and the reform of our institutions and society. Conversion is a long road to travel for the individual. Moving our nation to a full realization of the promise of liberty, equality, and justice for all is even more challenging. However, in Christ we can find the strength and the grace necessary to make that journey." 

 - Open Wide Our Hearts, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Ensuring that Kennedy Catholic is a more inclusive and equitable school community requires each of us to engage in personal work to challenge some of our beliefs, preconceptions, and blind spots. It also demands us to be clear about the behaviors and speech that hinder our ability to build the type of community we desire. As a diverse and passionate community, we recognize that the members of our community fall along a wide spectrum of attitudes, beliefs, and willingness to engage in this work. However, this work is essential to our work as a Catholic school and we are morally obligated to make progress.  

We are committed to working with each member of our community and supporting progress in accomplishing our goals. When a member of our community violates our values, we will work to repair the damage, and to educate the individual involved. While some form of punishment may be involved as part of the response, individual growth, restitution, and forgiveness will also be elements of our response. This is consistent with our Catholic identity and our nature as an educational institution.

We are called to action 

“Love compels each of us to resist racism courageously. It requires us to reach out generously to the victims of this evil, to assist the conversion needed in those who still harbor racism, and to begin to change policies and structures that allow racism to persist.” 

- Open Wide Our Hearts, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

It is time we take a hard look at the social injustices and racism that affects our students in the classroom, on the field, and in their activities. We must be supportive and reaffirm our commitment to building initiatives that create a more inclusive and equitable space for all. We must listen and we must learn. Meaningful change begins with one small step. 

Here are steps we have taken to begin our journey: 

  • Hired Derek Sparks as Kennedy Catholic’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Coordinator to provide leadership around the work and ensure focus and progress 
     
  • Formed a DEI Committee, consisting of faculty and staff of all races, ages, and genders to do the hard work of focusing inward to create outward change 
     
  • Formed a partnership with Dion Jordan, a respected DEI trainer, who challenges our perceptions of ourselves and pushes us to have often difficult, but brave, conversations
     
  • Welcomed two new, DEI-focused student groups on campus: the Black Student Union and the Anti-Sexist Intersectional Feminist Club, with a hope that additional groups of students will come forward in the coming months
     
  • Began round-table discussions with students and parents of color to hear their stories and learn how they would like to see change 
     
  • Committed to launching a DEI blog on our website on January 18 for discussion and guidance on resources 

Conclusion

These actions are just the beginning. We know we have a long way to go. We acknowledge we will falter now and then. Addressing systemic issues around race and inequality is not easy. But, if we continue to strive towards upholding our commitment to our mission statement and our Catholic identity, as well as ask our community to hold us accountable, we will get there. 

As Martin Luther King, Jr. Day approaches, I choose to look forward with hope that we are closer to realizing the dream he had many years ago; that we may grow beyond our expectations. In Dr. King’s words, “The time is always right to do what is right.” 

In Peace,
 

Matthew Mohs
President/Principal

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