How Your Church Can Partner with Schools and Community

July 20th, 2021

As communities brace for another surge of pandemic in the late summer of 2021, churches and schools get another chance to forge partnerships. Working together is crucial for the learning that will sustain future generations in learning and problem solving.   

"That morning in June 1958 seemed like a typical workday; however, it would turn out to be very, very different. I was going to work—but not to the cotton fields where I had been working for several years and where she, herself, would go that day. No, I would not be bending low in the hot sun from early morning to sunset, carefully weeding the young cotton plants—a process we called chopping. Uncle Cleve, Ma Ponk’s brother-in-law who owned the Ice House, had offered me the opportunity to work for the summer—that is, if my first few days worked out to his satisfaction. I never wanted to earn that admired reputation of chopping more rows than anyone else. I never wanted to learn how to sharpen my own hoe. Even though I was born into that world, I always wanted something better. I didn’t know what better would look like; I just knew that I wanted something different. The problem was that “better” jobs were virtually nonexistent—that is until the job at the Ice House opened up for me."[1]

This is the true story of an unlikely entrepreneur, Uncle Cleve, a Black man who owned the only ice house in a town in the Mississippi Delta in the late 1950s, and his nephew, barely a teenager, who gained real-world experience that shaped his life. As you might expect, Uncle Cleve had many challenges as a Black business owner in the 1950s who served both Blacks and Whites. This was during the Jim Crow era where laws enforced racial segregation of people in the South. Despite opposition, Cleve had an uncanny resolve, a creative vision, and an entrepreneurial spirit that enabled him to succeed. Uncle Cleve believed more was possible as an entrepreneur, owning the ice house.[2]

An entrepreneurial spirit includes beliefs and values that guide creative behavior. It’s the internal motivation that builds “grit” as defined by Angela Duckworth in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. “It’s tenacity, strength, dedication, and a deep belief that one’s actions can lead to progress and ultimately to success”[3] like Uncle Cleve. It is a faith in what’s unseen yet believed. It’s a commitment fueled by lifelong curiosity and creativity.

People are not born entrepreneurs or with a particular mindset. An entrepreneurial spirit is developed and enhanced through real-world learning opportunities at home, in classrooms, with organizations (such as churches), and in communities. An entrepreneurial spirit can lead to a set of skills such as collaboration, risk-taking, and deep listening that enable people to identify and make the most of opportunities, overcome and learn from setbacks, and succeed despite unexpected challenges.

So how do we enable creativity within communities through partnerships? A primary scriptural text for cultivating creative action is Luke 4:18-19 as inspired by Isaiah’s prophecy. This text has been chosen from among the many in the Bible because Jesus’s preaching focuses on doing as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." (Luke 4:18-19)

Three Steps for Nurturing Creativity

  1. Bring good news to the poor.
  2. Proclaim release to the captives.
  3. Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

1. Bring Good News to the Poor. The first creative step is to bring good news to the poor. Empowerment begins from the bottom. The poor are people and communities who are often economically disadvantaged, socially impoverished, and relationally outcast. In the context of the US, a wealthy nation, the poor are also marginalized or “destitute and disadvantaged people in a wealthy environment.”[4] For example, poor Black women and thus Black families are often the poorest, most destitute, and disadvantaged economically in systems of patriarchy where white men and their families are often the most powerful and wealthy. To take this a step further, a poor Black widowed woman could be socially outcast even more.

Here are four practical examples to creatively bring good news (love) to the poor as adapted from pastor and practical theologian Michael L. Cook[5] and Dr. Andre Perry, author, journalist, and researcher from the Brookings Institute.[6]

  • Develop an economic development ministry that helps promote home ownership, savings, investments, and entrepreneurship.
  • Form partnerships with existing organizations like HUD Homes, Habitat for Humanity, and FHA to encourage homeownership.
  • Establish a credit union within the church or community to provide low-interest or no-interest loans to start small businesses, make shortterm investments, invest in real estate, and so on.
  • Change the narrative and highlight assets in your city, beginning with people. Importantly, diverse families, neighborhoods, and students are not deficits in need of fixing. They are assets.
  • Find ways to celebrate the talents, strengths, and genius of people and history daily, not just on special holidays.[7]

2. Proclaim Release to the Captives. A second creative step is the proclamation and work of releasing captives. Release in this text is from the Greek word aphesis. “Aphesis appears in . . . Leviticus 25:10 as the translation of the Hebrew for jubilee, and identified . . . the ‘release’ as being that of debtors during a jubilee year. But Luke also uses aphesis for forgiveness in 24:47.”[8] In other words, release can be physical, spiritual, or social liberation. Captives are people bound physically, spiritually, or socially. In the context of the United States, one way captives can be understood is as the lower-ranked people at the bottom of a caste system. A caste system, as defined by Isabel Wilkerson in her book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it.

A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places. . . . A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text of the presumed laws of nature, reinforced throughout culture and passed down through the generations.[9]

In the US race is the primary tool and marker of caste. The darker a person is, the lower-ranked they are in American caste. The lighter a person is, the higher-ranked they are in the caste. Ultimately, caste is about the power differential between people and the resources, respect, and opportunity one is afforded in society. Caste, for groups of people, is typically permanent and inflexible. Caste, based on race, in America has endured for more than four hundred years. Dark-skinned people have been captive in a permanent underclass. In addition to the racial caste, people may feel imprisoned because of their faith. Women may feel captive in systems of subordination in church and society due to their race or gender. Historically, Black women have also been bound by sexual exploitation as their bodies have been abused as the property of another since the inception of chattel slavery.

Others may feel enslaved by drugs, alcohol, and the tyranny of chronic underemployment. Proclaiming the good news in situations of physical, emotional, and social captivity must not be an add-on for our community. It is critical for the survival of individuals, communities, and students. Students may be held captive by:

  • disengaging learning environments
  • a lack of physical, emotional, and psychological safety at school
  • meaningless and irrelevant work and classroom discourse
  • their cultural, spiritual, and/or ethnic values and practices not being acknowledged, honored, and respected 
  • feeling unseen, disrespected, and uncared for by adults and peers
  • lack of opportunities to set and meet goals, nor recover from failure.

In contrast, it is the responsibility of adults in schools and the community to:

  • nurture empathy for those who experience physical, spiritual, and social challenges. Radical empathy encourages people to listen, experience, and feel the pain of others. As a result of these experiences, one’s perspective and actions can be fundamentally shifted to become an advocate for equity.[10] This is the essence of love.
  • teach the truthfulness of American history for remembering, reconciling, and creating an equitable future for all.
  • center the voices and experiences of diverse students, families, and advocates who are closest to the margins.
  • consciously remove barriers to ensure diverse students and families have access to all opportunities such as advanced coursework.
  • provide restorative justice for students by eliminating the use of out-of-school suspension, which is known to increase the risk for dropout and arrest.[11]

Restoration for students can include deep empathy through storytelling, listening, building relationships, and prayer. It leads to collective actions such as restorative circles, mediation, and community decision making. Effective restorative justice results in addressing the role that education systems and policies may play in promoting violence and punishment instead of restoration. Changing punitive policies can lead to greater student success

3. Proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favor. The third creative step is the holistic proclamation of reconciliation. In the biblical Gospel of Luke today is a word that is repeated. “It occurs 12 times in Luke and only 9 times in the other three Gospels combined. . . . For Luke ‘today’ is a moment of radical change.”[12] In other words, liberation is with us today, if we choose to progress together. In a world without caste, there is hope, peace, patience, kindness, opportunity, and equity for all. Today the communities in the US that have been historically divested in are experiencing the brunt of the economic, health, and social pandemic. The COVID-19 epidemic has revealed that despite a Black president, civil rights legislation, and integration of some schools, corporations, and neighborhoods over the past sixty years, there is much work to be done.

In the PBS special “The Two Nations of Black America,” five characteristics emerged that define Blacks in the inner cities of America: (1) single female head of household, (2) welfare dependence, (3) marginal education (high school or less), (4) chronic unemployment, and (5) criminal recidivism (in and out of jail).[13] These ills are a result of systemic oppression, not inherently bad people, and can only be cured when Blacks and Whites, young and old, poor and rich, Christian and non-Christian work together to creatively nurture the community. In the context of the local church and community, a practical tool of creativity is community organizing. Matthew Bolton,[14] in his book How to Resist: Turn Protest to Power,[15] shares five principles and examples of how he has built a nationwide alliance of thousands of communities working toward justice. It requires poor and rich, Black and white, university educated, and street educated, Christian and non- Christian to create the liberating communities we desire.

If you want to change, you need power.

  • Build Relationships: You build up power through relationships with other people around common interests.
  • Break Down Problems: You break down the big problems you face together into specific issues and identify who the decision makers are, who has the power to make the changes you need.
  • Take Action: Then you take action to get a reaction and build a relationship with the decision makers. If they don’t agree to implement the changes then you escalate the action or turn to more creative tactics.
  • Celebrate Progress: Learning as you go and celebrating the small wins as you build incrementally up to the bigger issues.[16]

Notes:

1. Clifton Taulbert and Gary Schoeniger, Who Owns the Ice House?: Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur (Washington, DC: ELIPress, 2010), Kindle edition.

2. Taulbert and Schoeniger, Who Owns the Ice House?

3. Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (New York: Scribner, 2016).

4. Vauadi Vibila, “Marginalization,” in Dictionary of Feminist Theologies, ed. Letty M. Russell and J. Shannon Clarkson (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 170.

5. Michael L. Cook, “Yield Not to Temptation: Confronting the Financial Challenges of the Black Family,” in Multidimensional Ministry for Today’s Black Family, ed. Johnny B. Hill (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2007), 76.

6. “Andre M. Perry,” Brookings Institution, https://www.brookings .edu/experts/andre-m-perry/, accessed January 31, 2021.

7. Andre M. Perry, Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2020), “Introduction: Assets of Home.”

8. Chris Haslam, Revised Common Lectionary Commentary, http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/cpr03l.shtml, accessed April 26, 2010.

9. Wilkerson, Caste, 17.

10. “What Is Radical Empathy?” Camp Stomping Ground, February 16, 2017, https://campstompingground.org/blog/2017/2/16/what-is-radical-empathy, accessed January 31, 2021.

11. Anne Gregory and Katherine R. Evans, “The Starts and Stumbles of Restorative Justice in Education: Where Do We Go from Here?” January

14, 2020, https://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/restorative-justice,accessed February 4, 2021.

12. CrossMarks Christian Resources, “Luke 4.14-21: 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany-Year C,” http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke4x14.htm, accessed February 4, 2021.

13. Marvin A. McMickle, Preaching to the Black Middle Class: Words of Challenge, Words of Hope (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2000), 9.

14. Citizens UK, “Staff,” https://www.citizensuk.org/staff, accessed January 31, 2021.

15. Matthew Bolton, How to Resist: Turn Protest to Power, https://www.amazon.com/How-Resist-Turn-Protest-Power/dp/1408892723, accessed January 31, 2021.

16. Bolton, How to Resist, 3–4.

------------------------

This article is from chapter 7 in church/school/community by Lia McIntoish. The book contains numerous practical action steps and discussion questions for leaders and parents in your discipleship ministry.

comments powered by Disqus