On Friday, September 2, 2020, Marist School students participated virtually in programming dedicated to the summer reading texts Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson for 9th-12th grade students and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi for Foundations (7th-8th grade) students. These texts and the programming related to this year’s Marist Way theme, “ardent love of neighbor.”
All six grade levels came together at the beginning of the day for a keynote lecture delivered by Father Bruce Wilkinson, who served at parishes in the Atlanta area until his retirement from full-time ministry in 2017. In his retirement, Fr. Wilkinson studies astronomy and cosmology and its impact on the issues of faith and religion. He also supports the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s outreach to the Black Catholic communities to foster vocations to the priesthood, permanent diaconate, religious life, and lay leadership.
In his inspiring presentation, Fr. Wilkinson described his childhood, education, and the path that led him to ordination as a Catholic priest. He shared his own personal stories of hardship and perseverance and emphasized the importance of seeking opportunities to ardently love our neighbor. During a particularly challenging part of his life, Fr. Wilkinson found comfort in knowing “the goodness of what happens when God’s hand is involved.” He talked about how God gives us opportunities to use our lives to bring about something that is healing and good.
Following Fr. Wilkinson’s talk, Dr. Maurice Hobson, a historian and associate professor of African American Studies at Georgia State University, spoke to Foundations students about his journey and the importance of considering a variety of historical perspectives. He engaged students with his personal stories and words of encouragement. Foundations students then watched Dr. David R. Williams’ TED Talk
(from TEDMED). A professor and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Dr. Williams discussed why race matters so profoundly for health.
Students in 9th through 12th grades attended Georgia Innocence Project’s Wrongful Conviction Day programming and heard the personal story of exoneree John White. This discussion offered students a firsthand account of the damage incurred by wrongful conviction, inspiring them to take action to combat such injustice.
The morning concluded with grade-level reflection and prayer services, which provided students an opportunity to reflect on the speakers’ inspirational words and consider how they might apply some of those lessons to their own lives and their efforts to love their neighbors.
The “On the Same Page” program provides the Marist School community with the opportunity to engage in an interdisciplinary conversation around particular texts. Mrs. Kimberly Premoli, academic dean at Marist, said, “The summer reading student programming day provided students opportunities to hear from others affected by racism, discrimination, and injustice and how our speakers overcame and persevered while also encouraging us to seek opportunities to confront racism and injustice as a way to ardently love our neighbor. The grade-level prayer services provided a much-needed opportunity for classes to gather in unity to reflect on the speakers and their own experiences.”
This year, the “On the Same Page” program expanded to include alumni and parents. The Marist Alumni Association, Campus Ministry, and Office of Inclusion & Diversity collaborated to offer adults in the Marist School community an opportunity to discuss the selections for this year’s summer reading program. Over the course of four weeks, approximately 100 participants and facilitators met virtually in large groups before breaking off into small discussion groups. The purpose of Marist’s adult discussion series was more than a deeper understanding of the books. This discussion series was meant to help the Marist School community grow in our understanding of ourselves, each other, and how racism impacts our lives and what that means for us who follow Christ in the spirit of Mary. In keeping with the “ardent love of neighbor” theme for the year, discussions invited participants to reflect and act upon Jesus’ call to love all people because they are created in the image and likeness of God. The Marist Alumni Association, Campus Ministry, and Office of Inclusion & Diversity hope that these important conversations will continue and plan to offer other opportunities for engagement in the weeks and months ahead.