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Inclusion and Belonging: An Important Distinction

On Tuesday, we held our first assembly of the new school year. While virtual, it started the same way as previous years: with me reading a story to our girls and staff. Instead of one story this year, however, I shared two. I felt the need to ensure that from the start of the year we reflected on the important difference between feeling welcomed at St. Clement’s School, and fostering a community in which everyone feels they belong. The two stories I chose were selected to reinforce this.

SCS prides itself on having a close-knit community. While I believe that our intent to welcome people is sincere, like many historically homogeneous organizations, we have much work to do to ensure that beyond welcoming, we understand how to foster and maintain a feeling of belonging for all.

The first story I read, The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates, was selected because of its message about there always being room for anyone under the big umbrella regardless of who they are- that there is shelter and space for everyone. The notion is a lovely one that suggests the presence of an inclusive environment. However, with my ongoing reading, learning and unlearning about equity, racism, and anti-black racism in particular, over the last many years, this message could be perceived as superficial and, in fact, does not reflect many people’s lived experience. I believe we must go beyond espousing a welcoming environment and commit to doing the learning and work required to ensure a community where every member feels that they truly belong.

As I explained to our girls and staff on Tuesday, the reality is that there are many examples of systemic racism and exclusion in our world, our country, and our community. We have much work to do to open our hearts, eyes, and ears to identify what our institutions and each of us is doing- whether consciously or unconsciously- to contribute to excluding and / or diminishing others. We must all consider what we can do to become antiracist.

This  led me to my second book, Antiracist Baby by author, historian, and scholar of race Ibram X. Kendi. While this book is meant to be read to young children to teach them about how to be anti-racist, it is an important message for anyone, at any age. The book commences with the following words, “Antiracist Baby is bred not born. Antiracist baby is raised to make society transform. Babies are taught to be racist or antiracist- there’s no neutrality.” This is a wonderful book that provides the reader with steps to “make equity a reality.”

Kendi writes that we must

  • Open our eyes to all skin colours- we are not colour blind
  • Use our words to talk about race
  • Point at policies not people to rectify racism as policies don’t always grant equal access
  • Remember that we are all human regardless of race
  • Celebrate our differences
  • Welcome all groups in voicing their views
  • Confess when being racist
  • Work to learn, grow, and change to become anti-racist and;
  • Believe we shall overcome racism

We are all at different stages with respect to our awareness, learning and unlearning about equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism. A close-knit community is one that beyond simply being included is one in which each person is known, valued, and supported. Each community member’s well-being and sense of belonging depends on this.

At St. Clement’s, as we work to ensure our close-knit community, let us all commit to working towards a place of belonging as opposed to one where people are simply included.

 

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