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Matching words with action

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Diversity of thought, culture, and experience truly enriches all of us, but true diversity and inclusion is about action.


Years ago, I received great advice: "When you are in a meeting and someone says the dumbest thing you have ever heard, it's not your job to tell them it was the dumbest thing you have ever heard."
Seems like simple advice, but we don't always speak with just our mouths. A few months after receiving this advice, the purveyor of this advice pulled me aside. "Mike," he said, "You are doing a good job keeping your mouth shut and not reacting to what people say, but can I give you some additional advice?" Sure, I said. "Don't ever play poker." My mouth may have stopped saying things, but my face didn't! Words are one thing, but sometimes it is what a person is doing that is more telling.
About 10 years ago, there was a third-grade refugee from Sudan facing removal from the regular public school system after being suspended for the third time since the start of the school year. All of the issues were behavioral in nature, no violence, just acting out. The last thing this student needed was more change. In his eight years of life, he had been relocated from Sudan to Syracuse, New York, and now to Massachusetts. This student needed stability, not more uncertainty.

The public school system spoke all about inclusion and support. They spoke about all the efforts to meet this student where he was at, but the actions were very different. This is not an indictment of the public school system, but what they were saying and what they were doing was very different.
A volunteer at the local refugee agency shared this story with one of the agency's board members. This board member also runs corporate giving for a large Boston company that supports the Catholic Schools Foundation. This student needed stability and boundaries, and the corporate supporter knew that a Catholic school was the answer. She called us to see how we could help, and I called a nearby school.
I had barely finished sharing the story when the principal said, "Have him come tomorrow." There was zero hesitation. This student is now a junior in college and on a path that will forever positively change the trajectory of his life and that of his family.
In recent years, much has been written about diversity and inclusion, and this is great. The world should be inclusive and diverse. Diversity of thought, culture, and experience truly enriches all of us, but true diversity and inclusion is about action.
People sometimes ask about the Catholic Schools Foundation's approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I always respond the same way -- "the Gospel." The Gospel is a radical document and a real challenge to live out. It is easy to read about or write and theorize about loving your neighbor as yourself, but what about the neighbor you don't like or the neighbor who makes you uncomfortable or the neighbor that takes a little more work to love?
The principal could have responded to my call with a hundred reasons why he couldn't help. Instead, he said yes. He then sat with this young man every day while the student struggled to adjust. This principal, the teachers, and everyone in the school worked to let this young man know he was loved, that he could succeed and that everything would be ok. This principal matched his words and actions in a way that brought the message of the Gospel to life.
Catholic schools work to enliven the Gospel and with the support of the Catholic Schools Foundation, we change lives.

- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.

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