I’ve always been very intentional about exposing our children to other races and cultures. While attending a private Christian school, Ellie and Zach were surrounded by all different races and ethnicities. Most of the kids spoke more than one language and few came from the same town. It was fantastic. When we considered switching to public school, a huge concern for me was the loss of that diversity.
Our town is white. We have a few exceptions, like the kids adopted from China and Korea (into Caucasian families) and a small number of bi-racial families. The one Indian family and the two African American families add some melamine, but the majority of people we see look like WonderBread. Even our Hispanic families are “white” Hispanics.
My sister was adopted from Korea before I was born. We never had Asian dolls in our house. We never saw Asians in our town or church. For lack of a better term, she was a novelty in our blonde-haired, corn-fed Midwestern community. I remember the first time she came to our church in New Jersey. Her son, who was maybe six or seven at the time, could hardly believe there were other people who looked like him. He was ecstatic and couldn’t stop talking about it!
I’ve never wanted my kids to grow up in a place that was so entirely homogeneous. Lately, however, I’ve learned to define diversity differently.
Look at what I found in Ellie’s room.
Can you see it? She has drawn cochlear implants on both ears of her doll. Not just this one, either. It appears all of her dolls without hair needed the surgery. (Fortunately her American Girls have hair. I don’t know if this mama could have handled graffiti on those!)
The private school may have boasted great variance in skin tones, but similarities in most other ways. The families all believed in the same God, the same Jesus. Generally speaking, none of them suffered financially (There weren’t many grants and tuition is expensive. School lunches were catered and cost $6/day rather than $2.35.). We didn’t have any hearing impaired kids. We didn’t have any physically handicapped kids. We had lots of languages, but no parents who didn’t speak English. We didn’t have any students with learning disabilities.
We’re learning to appreciate a different side of diversity. Far less obvious than race or ethnicity, differences that can’t be seen present just as much impact.
My kids now go to school with kids who, for the most part, look just like them. But they have classmates from different religious backgrounds and some who don’t have a lot of money. They have friends whose parents only speak Russian or Polish or Spanish. They see kids every day with cochlear implants, with walkers and leg braces. Their classrooms employ special equipment to help those with speech, hearing or learning disabilities.
All this affords us opportunity to be light. Opportunities we never had at the other school.
My daughter packs extra food every morning because she knows someone who never has a snack and another who frequently leaves lunch still hungry. My son prays almost every day for his friends to know Jesus. We get to talk about what other families believe and how we can serve them, how we can love them the way God wants us to. We get to be in the world, but clearly not of it.
I feared losing diversity, never knowing we would be fully surrounded by it. Or what opportunities awaited us when we saw it.
Your Turn: Have you ever had concern turn into opportunity? How did God use you and what did He teach you in that situation?