Circle of Our Family
WOKR Community Affairs Director
Producer "Many Voices, Many Visions"
Bernard's Commencement Address
evening to you all, Bishop Clark, members of the Board
of Trustees, faculty and staff, graduates of St. Bernard's
Class of 2004, valued families and friends.
an honor and a pleasure to be here with you in this
beautiful setting at St. Mary's on this important day
of your life, a day ending one chapter and beginning
a new one. I know the journey here has been a long one
for some of you - long in terms of miles down the thruway
and long in terms years of study, as most of you continued
to work full time jobs and raise families while pursuing
the degrees you are receiving this evening.
so impressed by your accomplishments and the significance
of the degrees you have earned: Master of Arts in Theology,
Master of Divinity, Graduate Certification Theology,
Diocesan Certificate for Designated Ministry. I'm also
impressed at the sacrifices you have made in order to
continue your education, not to benefit yourself, but
to benefit others. You could have gone for an MBA at
another graduate school in town and doubled or tripled
your salaries, but instead, you chose St. Bernard's
with its long tradition of preparing its students to
serve by transforming information into knowledge, and
refining knowledge into wisdom and compassion.
know you are a very special group of people and I have
wondered what I could possibly have to say that would
be of value to you. The one topic I have explored in
depth - and explored over a life time - is the topic
of diversity. It's a huge topic and I think a very important
one as we move into the 21st Century. The National Leadership
Conference Education Fund predicted several years ago
that the two skills necessary for success in the 21st
Century are computer skills and cultural competency.
Well, most of us are getting the hang of computers,
but I'm not so sure we've mastered the cultural competency
have only to turn on our television set tonight to see
that. We are at war, right now, with a nation whose
culture we do not understand. We see soldiers from around
our country, and our own community, in a life and death
struggle with people of a different nationality, a different
ethnic background, a different religion, a different
historical context, speaking a different language. How
difficult it must be for them, all parties concerned.
It's heart breaking to watch the fear and misunderstandings
spiral out of control.
is cultural competency? It's having an understanding
of a cultural group that is different form your own.
Of recognizing that different does not mean wrong. It
is the result of efforts taken to study their history,
literature, language, and traditions. Obviously, we
can't be culturally competent with every culture in
the world, but we can certainly make an effort to do
so where it counts most. As a nation, we can educate
more of our young people in the world's languages and
cultures so that we can act responsibly and wisely as
the greatest military and economic power ever seen in
human history. Cultural sensitivity and cultural competency
are important tools in negotiating peace. If these non-violent
tools are missing from the tool box, violence, once
again, will be seen as the only way out.
cultural sensitivity and cultural competency to the
community level, we must educate more of our young people
about the rich diversity that exists outside of their
neighborhoods, which are still divided, pretty much,
into black and white school districts fifty years after
Brown vs Board of Education made school segregation
do we tend to self segregate? To hang out with those
that look, think, talk and act like us? It is human
nature to feel uncomfortable - even threatened - by
people who are different from us. Most of us tend to
react to difference in one of three ways: 1.) deny it
2.) change it (so it is like us ) and 3.) if the first
two don't work, destroy it! Fortunately, there is another
way to deal with diversity. You can allow it! You can
open your heart and mind and arms and embrace it!
what I would like to talk to you about tonight. I have
found that I can co-exist with people and cultures different
from mine and actually benefit from them! In fact, I'm
a bigger and better person because there is diversity
in my life. We can't change the world (it's taken me
along time to come to terms with that fact), but we
can change our self. And when we do that, the world
also changes in a small but significant way.
story begins in Portville, New York, a little town in
the Southern Tier near St. Bonaventure. Back in the
50's, Portville had about 2000 people total. There were
only two blacks that I knew of, a mother and daughter.
The girl was two grades a head of me, so I only saw
her in the halls and never really knew her. The rest
of the folks were pretty much similar. There was a little
religious diversity - Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran,
and Catholic churches. And a retarded boy that everybody
knew and watched out for.
wasn't until my senior year when we had a foreign exchange
student from Germany that I had any inkling, really,
that there was a whole other world outside Portville,
and more importantly, another whole way of looking at
the world! Konrad surprised us with his observations
of American life that we all took so for granted. For
one thing, he took American history seriously and got
the highest mark in our class on the American History
Regents exam. (That was little embarrassing.)
carried an umbrella when it rained. I never saw any
boys in my class do that!! He played Junior Varsity
football and thought it very different form the fussball
that they played in Germany. He said, "In Germany
we use sport to build the body up, here you use it to
tear the body down." I became fascinated that I
was able to see things in a different way through his
to Konrad, I went off to college and majored in German.
After spending my junior year abroad in Germany, I was
hooked on the big, beautiful world. When I returned
to Allegheny College, I fell in love with and married
a foreign exchange student who went on for graduate
work at Cornell University and then got a job with the
United Nations. I was thrilled to get back to that larger
world again and for the next 13 years lived in developing
countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin
America. One of the great things about hanging out in
a different culture is that mundane, everyday tasks
become an exciting adventure! A simple act, like buying
a loaf of break, becomes a proud accomplishment when
you're speaking a foreign language.
diversity circles, we talk about the fish in the water.
"How's the water?" we ask the fish. "What
water?" the fish replies. The fact is, we swim
in our culture much as the fish swims in the water.
It's just there. We don't give it much thought. But
throw the fish on dry land, it's another story! It's
the same thing with us. Immerse yourself in another
culture, and you will see your own for the first time!
makes you wonder, "What would you be like if you
had been born in that other culture and were taught
other mores, truths, and traditions?" Those of
us who speak more than one language have learned that
language, itself, is a factor in determining how we
view the world.
I learned from traveling the globe was that there are
many, many ways of looking at the same thing
A day in the life of, you name it: a Thai family, a
Jordanian family, a Kenyan family, a Brazilian family
are all different, but they are also
all the same.
It's that relationship between being different and being
being separate and being connected
a part of the whole and being the whole
made my diversity walk more than an academic study.
For me it has been a lifelong journey and a spiritual
own spiritual path which has taken you to St. Bernard's
offers a perfect example of the complementary nature
of unity in diversity. The stained glass windows in
your sanctuary are so beautiful. There are so many separate
pieces of glass in them, all colors, shapes and sizes,
but in the creative hands of the artist, they became
much more than the mere sum of their parts, they became
an inspiring work of art that feeds the soul and nurtures
see us all as little pieces of stained glass and the
Great Creator is making of us his own work of art. He
needs us all to be different in order to make his beautiful
window. Sometimes, though, I think He might wonder why
he gave us free will, since some of us don't want to
be part of the window or we don't want to let other
pieces of glass be part of the window!
is the lesson we learn from diversity. In order to make
diversity fulfill its great promise, there must be a
unifying force, one that allows all the parts of the
whole their rightful place in the on-going creation
of life. That's really what the diversity movement of
the 90's was all about. It was about building inclusive
workplaces and communities. But it wasn't called the
"Inclusivity Movement" it was called the "Diversity
back to the 90's when diversity was the big buzz word
in business? Companies were trying to get it, value
it, manage it, and leverage it, all for a better bottom
line? (Of course, legislation had been passed making
it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity,
national origin, gender, gender orientation or ability.
I'm sure that fact motivated part of their enthusiasm.)
But whether for pro-active reasons or reactive reasons,
terms like multi-cultural, cross cultural, cultural
competency were bandied about in board rooms across
the country. Companies created new positions with titles
like: "Diversity Manager", "Diversity
Officer", Vice President of Diversity Initiatives
and Global Supply Chain". There seemed to be a
new found perception that cultural diversity was a good
thing. So, why did it take us until the 90's to recognize
and prize the diversity of our great country?
if we look back to the 50's, we see the roots of the
diversity movement in the early civil rights movement.
Indeed, three days from now, on May 17th is the 50th
Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education. On that
day in 1954, the Supreme Court struck down the "separate
but equal" doctrine of American public schools
making school segregation no longer legal and allowing
"black" children to go to "white"
children's schools. In the case of the Brown sisters,
although they lived only two blocks from their neighborhood
school, they were not allowed in it because it was a
white school and they were black. Those two young girls
had to walk two miles and pass through a rail road yard
to get to their black school. Actually, it always boggles
my mind talking about the "black" children,
the "white" children and the "Brown"
children. Isn't it strange to color code children?
Time now for a short news flash about race. There is
only one, the human one. The concept of different races
is a faulty one according to the latest genetic research
of Dr. Spencer Wells, who wrote the book and produced
the PBS special "Journey of Man" tracing the
human genome back to its origin. According to research
on human genetic make-up, we all go back to one man
in Africa about 60,000 years ago. So, the whole idea
of "race" is a social construct, and technically
- since we all trace our ancestry back to Africa - every
person in this country is an African-American regardless
of skin color. By the way, did you know that genetically
there is a greater difference between a tall man and
a short man, than a black man and a white man?
to the civil rights movement which was all about the
fact that black people were not different from white
people and deserved the same rights and privileges.
Well, like a wild fire, the righteous energy of the
black struggle spread to and re-ignited the women's
rights movement, which in turn encouraged the oppressed
Native Americans, Hispanic and Latinos, who were followed
by the Asians and Pacific Islanders! Each group was
inspired and empowered by the others to claim their
voice and assert their rights. In 1990 came the ADA,
the American Disabilities Act, giving rights to people
with disabilities. Sometimes, I think that the reserved
parking places for people with disabilities is one of
the few signs that the human race is, in fact, making
in the 90's and continuing into the present, are the
voices of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered
people clamoring to be heard, demanding their rights.
All of these movements came to a head in the 90's and
with all these voices crying to be heard, it got pretty
intense, very exciting and sometimes, quite noisy.
did they want? What do they still want? Very simple,
really. They just want to be part of the family, invited
to the party, to sit at the table, to be included in
the American dream, which promises in its Declaration
of Independence, "That all men (and women!) are
created equal, that they are endowed by their creator
with certain unalienable rights, that among these are
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Harvard professor Cornell West says America is not just
a land mass on the North American continent. It's an
idea. It's a work in progress, an experiment in democracy.
And as a pluralistic democracy, I believe its diversity
is one of America's greatest strengths. In fact, as
we enter the 21st Century, the diversity movement of
the 90's might be one of the very best preparations
we've got for our leadership role in this world, although,
we're certainly not there yet.
9/11, I don't think any of us underestimates the challenges
of living in this increasingly connected, and increasing
diverse and discordant world. On the other hand,remember
the millennium celebrations? I don't think I was the
only one who shed some tears at the incredible sight
of the new day dawning around the world from East to
all the celebrations
people singing in
dancing in different costumes.
All the fireworks and festivities! That day we all understood
one another and felt super connected. We were one people
that day, sharing common ground. It felt like the beginning
of a new era. But it wasn't to be, not quite yet.
come back now to our own community. What about diversity
in Rochester? What are people doing here to build an
inclusive community? Quite a lot really. We are blessed
with a lot of cultural diversity here and everybody
is eager to share their culture. The indigenous people,
the Iroquois or Haudenesaunee, share their culture at
Ganondagan outside of Victor all summer long. In fact,
tomorrow, May 15th is Community Day, a free day for
the public from 10-4 p.m.. Ganondagan is the site of
a Seneca town that covered Boughton Hill from 1655 to
1687. It's a New York State Historic Site which has
an historic replica of an Iroquois longhouse, a nature
trail, a book store and a visitor's center. A visit
to Ganondagan is a wonderful way to learn about this
region's first cultural group.
month is also Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage
month and there is a film festival going on and two
photo exhibits, one this Sunday at Rochester Museum
and Science Center and one May 23 at the Memorial Art
Gallery. This community is Rochester's fastest growing
community with an estimated 20,000 people from some
50 Asian and Pacific Island nations.
is a great time for cultural festivals. In June you
have the West Indian Festival with steel drums and Caribbean
food. In August the Black community has its Clarissa
Street Reunion. If you like jazz and soul food, this
is a great festival. It's also a wonderful opportunity
to be one of the few whites in a predominantly black
setting. This is a great gift in terms of understanding
what it must feel like to walk in a "minority's"
shoes. There's also the Puerto Rican Festival, East
Indian celebrations, Irish and German festivals, Scottish,
Italian, Ukrainian, the list goes on.
me, it's like a smorgasbord, not only of food, but also
ideas. Each culture has little gems of culture or wisdom
to pass along. From Latino culture I have learned the
importance of the circle. Of making sure that everyone
has a chance to speak, even though we may be speaking
for six hours and not accomplish the goal as quickly
as my Northern European linear mode thinking would like!
I've learned relationship must not be sacrificed for
getting to the goal as quickly as possible.
African Americans I have learned the admirable quality
of patience in the face of persecution and discrimination.
I've also learned from the joy and pain expressed through
their wonderful spirituals. I go to a black church periodically.
The music and eloquent oratory skills of the Black church
tradition feed my soul in a special way.
Native American friends I have learned the Thanksgiving
Prayer that is recited at the beginning of all gatherings.
What impresses me so is the range of their thankfulness.
They give thanks to the sun, the moon, the water, the
earth, and all that lives on the earth, from the two-legged
to the four-legged, to the winged, the crawling, to
the plants and stone people. There is such a profound
respect for all living things in that culture. All creation
is considered of equal importance. The Lokata have a
saying for it: "Mitakuye Oyasin" - we are
Native Americans also have a wise relationship with
time. They make every decision taking into consideration
that it will affect seven generations. I've often heard
whites complaining about blacks getting affirmative
action favors saying the injustices of slavery were
back then and this is now. For them 140 years ago is
ancient history and has nothing to do with now. Their
culture is about speed. They want it fast and they want
it now! Whether news media or fast food. They fail to
understand the seven generation principle and that the
legacy of slavery casts a long, long shadow. External
oppression becomes internalized - goes underground so
to speak - and people continue to feel oppressed even
when the external oppression is removed.
this week on Wednesday, I was one of several Rochesterians
who met with a delegation from the Underground Railroad
Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. They were here to
talk about how Rochester could connect its own rich
underground railroad history with that of the Freedom
Center by creating a Freedom Station here. After the
meeting, Dr. David Anderson of the Rochester/Monroe
County Freedom Trail Commission, took us to Mt. Hope
Cemetery to the grave of Fredrick Douglass. I will never
forget what I witnessed there. The elderly African American
historian and senior advisor of the Freedom Center,
stood silently in front of the tall granite memorial
of his hero, and then bent down with his elbows on his
knees and his head in his hands and quietly sobbed.
It's very painful to look back at this country's past
history and see the injustices that have not yet been
fully addressed and which continue to profoundly affect
those living today.
the power is always in the present, so we can lift our
eyes to the future and know that every action we take
in our lives today will affect the next seven generations
to come. This is a powerful teaching our Native American
brothers and sisters give us. And there is much we can
offers two outstanding programs if you want to work
in the healing of race relations. One program, Moving
Beyond Racism, was begun in 1996 by a small group of
religious leaders from different faith traditions and
is still going on. The program lasts 9 weeks and at
the end of it people are asked to commit to an action
item. I'd like to share three results with you. Bill
Coffee of St. Mary's initiated a prayer vigil for victims
of violence in our community. Every time there is a
homicide, Bill invites people to bring a flower and
join him on the site at noon the day after for prayers.
Since most of the city's murders are drug related and
take place in the inner city where there is a dangerous
concentration of poverty and despair, Bill and other
whites have made new friends as they have joined mourners
in these predominantly African American neighborhoods.
outgrowth of Moving Beyond Racism is the Middle Passage
Remembrance Ceremony on the shore of Lake Ontario the
second Saturday in June every year. The ceremony honors
the millions of enslaved people who died en route to
the Americas and whose bodies were tossed into the ocean.
This was started by Bob and Cathy Cobbett who went through
the Moving Beyond Racism program. They now collaborate
with Black community leaders and together they organize
this annual event. A third outgrowth of Moving Beyond
Racism is the monthly MBR Book Group held at the Pittsford
Barnes and Noble bookstore on the first Monday every
month. Book selections address a wide variety of racial,
ethnic, and diversity topics.
unique program is Mayor Johnson's Biracial Partnerships
for Community Progress bringing together two people
from different races who commit to meeting 16 times
over the course of a year for the purpose of making
a new friend. This program is unique in that it started
with our city's top leaders and change makers and is
now in its third year, working its way through businesses,
schools, and agencies to the community at large. The
long term goal is to offer this powerful experience
to thousands of Rochesterians, transforming our city
into a national model for healing the wounds of past
racism and creating new inclusive communities of the
future where all are welcome.
has been my pleasure to talk to you this evening about
a topic I love. I have benefited so much from inviting
diversity into my life
diversity of race, ethnicity,
creed, age, gender, gender orientation and ability.
It has taught me about the world I live in and the cultural
lenses through which I see and experience that world.
But perhaps most importantly, it has increased my capacity
to love. And, as far as I can figure out, that is the
purpose of life on earth.
would like to leave you with three final thoughts about
diversity and inclusivity from three enlightened teachers
who have inspired my journey. Their words resonate in
my heart. First, French priest and paleontologist Teilhard
de Chardin who said, "We are not humans having
a spiritual experience, we are spirit having a human
experience." When I'm confounded by human diversity,
I try to remember our true identity and where we come
second teacher is Rumi, a Sufi Muslim holy man, who
lived in Persia or modern day Iran, some 800 years ago.
His poetry has been on the best sellers list for some
time now. His mystical words of universal oneness are
in sharp contrast to the violent conflicts among Jew,
Christian and Muslim in that biblical region today.
beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing,
There is a field - I'll meet you there -
When the soul lies down in that grass,
Ideas, language, even the words "each other"
don't make any sense"
the next time you see someone who looks different from
you and you would call them "other", remember
this wisdom from Mother Teresa, that tiny little figure
with the huge heart whom the whole world called "mother".
She said, "We draw the circle of our family too
May 14, 2004