Our Commitment to Justice, Equity, Inclusivity and Belonging

Dear Friends,

Two weeks ago, I was with a group of adults who were discussing race, racism and the civil reckoning that has gripped our country since the killing of George Floyd. In the days after the discussion, one of the participants called me. He had been reluctant to speak during the discussion because he had feared he might be misunderstood or make a comment that could be perceived as racist. The more he and I talked, the more our conversation reminded me of how I had felt during a Theology course I took in college.

Struggle and Transcendence was the only course I took at Georgetown where white students were not the racial majority in the class. Instead, the majority of my classmates in the course were Black as were the teaching assistants and the guest lecturers. In that setting, I remember not wanting to say the wrong thing.

The course was one of the best I took in college. As part of the syllabus, I read Bernard Lonergan, Cornel West and W. E. B. Du Bois for the first time. Du Bois’s “Of Alexander Crummell” remains one of the most formative pieces of writing I have ever read. At our last class, the professor invited each student to share a few words about what they had learned. I remember nervously waiting for my turn to speak and then recounting my first day in the class. I explained that when I entered the room for the first time, I had unthinkingly expected I would find what I had found in my other Theology classes: a classroom filled with students whose racial backgrounds were mostly like my own.

I sheepishly told the class how arresting that moment had been for me. The course was the sixth I had planned to take that semester, and I needed to add into it to graduate that May. For the first time in my life, the people who would decide whether I could join a class had not looked like me. I had feared the teaching assistants or the guest lecturer might refuse me a place in the class – a fear that said much more about me than it did about the goodness of those whom I would come to know in that class. After recounting this, I asked the Black students in the class if what I had felt on that first day of class was a small measure of what they experienced each day as they moved through Georgetown’s campus. My classmates responded with quiet nods and more kindness than I felt I deserved.

All of this occurred more than twenty-two years ago in May 1998, and yet the challenges before us today remain very much the same. In this hyperpolarized moment in our nation’s history, we are once again struggling to speak with one another about the lasting impact of our country’s original sin of racism. To quote Charlotte Curtis – our Parent Engagement Manager and the parent of a CJA alumnus:

There is much work to do as individuals and as a community. Will it be hard? Yes. Will it be messy? Yes. Will you become tired? Yes. But is it worth it? Absolutely… we are all in this together and that’s how the change will occur.

In the document that follows, you will read about the new and renewed commitments we have chosen to make at CJA as we continue to work in the service of our students, alumni and families to build a school community rooted in justice, equity, inclusivity and belonging. After you have read the document, I hope you will reach out to me or another member of our community whom you trust if you have questions or concerns about what we are striving to do in this moment.

I am grateful for your continued partnership in this work – especially during these extraordinary days in our country’s history. Thank you once again for your great love and support for our CJA community.

In gratitude,

Our Commitment to Justice, Equity, Inclusivity and Belonging

On 9 June 2020, CJA published a statement honoring Black lives in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. In that statement, we promised to review our diversity, equity and inclusion practices, and we committed to publishing a summary of our new commitments by 15 October 2020.

Please find a summary of these commitments below:

  • As a work of the Catholic Church, we remain committed to walking in solidarity with our students, alumni, families and colleagues as we strive to repair the social sin of racism. We commit to engaging in respectful dialogue and anti-bias anti-racist training that recognizes and affirms our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • We commit to reviewing our mission statement in partnership with our alumni, our alumni’s parents, our faculty and staff, and our board by June 2021.
  • We renew our commitment to adding more Black and Latinx voices to CJA’s board of directors, committees and executive team.
  • We commit to sharing the stories of our students, alumni and families in ways that emphasize their strength, resilience and courage.
  • We commit to setting the need for CJA’s existence and the scope and breadth of CJA’s mission within the broader context of our country’s history of systemic racism and the past 70 years of disinvestment on the West Side of Chicago. Unjust structures – specifically, inequitable access to well-resourced public schools – created the need for CJA.
  • We commit to listening to and learning from one another – especially the members of our Black Affinity Group (BAG), which was formed in June and includes Black members of our faculty and staff. We commit to compensating members of the BAG justly for their additional work.
  • We commit to learning from diversity, equity and inclusion experts as we critically review our curriculum and strive to build broad cultural competency across our entire faculty and staff.
  • We commit to having a transparent process by which CJA parents, employees and other members of our community can share feedback about the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department (CCSPD) officers with whom CJA has contracted to help ensure the blocks around CJA are safe. We commit to checking in with each officer as they arrive for duty and to building relationships with them. CJA does not employ a school resource officer, and the CCSPD officers do not serve as school resource officers. They have never been involved in student discipline at CJA, and we commit to maintaining this policy.
  • We commit to supporting our Alumni Board, which several alumni created this past summer.
  • We commit to strengthening and broadening our relationships with our neighbors and the surrounding community by sustaining partnerships with local organizations, i.e., The West Side Coalition, and hosting neighborhood athletic leagues.
  • We commit to making significant additional investments in our community as we continue to explore how CJA is called to be of greater service to children and families in our community.
  • Our work is far from done. We commit to holding ourselves accountable for this work. As we strive to build a more just and equitable world, we commit to publishing annual updates about our progress each June.

We root all these commitments within our mission and identity as a Jesuit, Catholic institution. We are animated by our belief in the Resurrection. We believe the cross is not the summary statement for our human condition. We believe God’s love is greater than any hate.

We acknowledge that we are, all of us, sinners. We are a people who regularly miss the mark. But we also believe that we are loved sinners, capable of repentance and redemption, made of both the dust of the earth and the inspired breath of God.

In all that we do, we strive to model for our students and alumni our shared commitment to our Grad-at-Grad values by being open to growth, intellectually competent, loving, religious and committed to doing justice in the service of others.