Words Preach. Actions Speak.
As the nation and world grappled with the murder of George Floyd, Portland Adventist Academy, in chorus with Adventist organizations world-wide, joined in collective condemnation, grief, and reckoning. “We commit to doing our part to eradicate hate, to condemn violence, and stand up to acts of racism; living out Christ’s command to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves,” PAA’s public statement read.
But actions speak louder than words.
To be clear these were not words alone, PAA administrators shared the specific steps being taken. Then, a week later, an action statement entitled “Knowing Better & Doing Better“ went further.
The public was encouraged to connect with administrators to share their own experiences of racism within the PAA community. “We commit to making changes and we desire to help and heal the pain of broken trust. We want to do better.”
In the days, weeks, and months following these statements, action towards knowing better and doing better became front and center.
Here are the most significant actions:
PAA immediately began an educational partnership with the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education which uses the universal lessons of the Holocaust in their work to create a more just society. Teachers engaged in professional growth with OJMCHE, students led out in a chapel about Christians and Social Justice, and an optional workshop was offered to students and parents by the OJMCHE.
Through the summer of 2020, PAA teachers and staff studied perspectives of Black Americans. When returning to campus in the fall, they shared what they learned and engaged in additional training with the OJMCHE.
Collectively, teachers and staff chose Micah 6:8 as the 2020-2021 school year theme and to live the commandments of the text to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and each other.
Eight professional growth series, including several with the OJMCHE, engaged teachers and staff throughout this school year. They explored topics like identity and intersectionality, inclusive education, and much more. In an effort to hear community voices, some sessions included alumni revealing painful experiences related to race at PAA.
Six PAA Parent Workshops gave adults the tools to talk with the young people in their lives about issues related to racism. The talks included discussions about past and current protest, power and oppression, news and media, cancel-culture, and how to be an ally with Christ-centered and character driven values.
PAA chapels throughout the year allowed students and teachers an opportunity to share their personal growth in understanding how to eradicate hate as well as sharing experiences that made an impact on their understanding of racism.
Listening to Young People of Color
Myra Vasquez shared from her heart during PAA’s final chapel last school year just one week following the murder of George Floyd.
In the final chapel of the 2019-2020 school year and just one week following the murder of George Floyd, Myra Vasquez, a 2020 graduate, reflected on being a part of the whole church body and that when one part of the body has been hurt the whole body and whole community ends up feeling that pain. “I am the church,” she said, “you are the church. All of us, individually and collectively, are the church. As the church, we have the right, the ability, and the obligation to stand up about what’s been happening. Jesus was a threat to the power structures of His time.” “It’s incredibly easy to feel hopeless about the future and hopeless about change,” she said. “But as followers of Christ, we have a hope and Jesus is our hope.” … “So don’t limit God to your experiences alone. God is not politics. God is not Republican or Democrat. God is not a specific race.”
Ulani Brown, a PAA senior, felt this impact after visiting the memorial murals in downtown Portland last summer. “Seeing all of the people mourning and coming together allowed me to really see the greater impact of racism within our country,” she said. “The artwork was beautiful and knowing the reason behind each piece, and knowing that the artist’s heart and soul went into each work of art only made the feeling more surreal.” (See one of the memorial murals HERE.)
PAA alumni (left) Shianne Willis-Brown (‘18), (center) U’Lee Brown (’89), and PAA senior, Ulani Brown (right) visited downtown Portland last summer to view local artists’ work inspired by social injustice stories.
“It made me passionate about creating change, and about wanting something more for our world,” she said. “I want to be the change that I want to see.”
It also compelled Ulani to devote her senior project to examining historical racism in Adventism. It opened up opportunities for deep and honest conversations with church members as well as PAA alumni. She listened to people share their painful stories and experiences with injustice within the walls of Seventh-day Adventist communities.
This challenging project revealed Ulani’s sincere and caring heart. “I struggled with the concept of tackling such an important issue within my own community, but I realized that it is more important to try and make a change in the community that I love, rather than leaving it for someone else to do.”
Ulani’s caring heart, moral courage, and sincere desire to walk with Jesus through such challenging times inspired the faculty and staff at PAA to name her the 2021 Caring Heart Award winner. She received this award on during commencement on June 6. You can read more of the ways Ulani shows her care for others HERE!
What Have You Learned?
“I have learned that I still have so much to learn,” says PAA Bible teacher, Pastor Stephen Lundquist. “It’s humbling to realize how long it took me to finally open my eyes to see racial injustice. Once you see racism, you can’t unsee it. It is everywhere.”
In this awareness, PAA teachers, staff, and administrators chose Micah 6:8 for the 2020-2021 school year. And it has been the biblical light on PAA’s proverbial path to ‘know more and do better.’
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8
“It is significant that Micah emphasizes that justice is something we do,” says Pastor Stephen. “It is an action. Silence and inaction allow racial injustice to grow. I have learned the practice of antiracism is a series of daily, moment by moment decisions. It is a lifelong quest along a continuum following the trajectory toward justice that Micah describes.”
Spanish Teacher, Rita Barrett, or Profe, as she is known on campus, also had a personal revelation. “Our professional development this year has helped me focus on the last part of the verse – walking humbly with my God. Our discussions helped me recognize some areas where I have really missed the mark. As we say, ‘when we know better, we can do better.’ That takes humility and it is encouraging to know that we are not walking alone, but we have God beside us as we learn and grow.
Are We There Yet?
When PAA teachers, staff, and administrators chose Micah 6:8 as their guiding verse for the 2020-2021 school year, they couldn’t have imagined how many more challenges this community would have to face.
Returning to online learning was discouraging, of course. But then wildfires forced teachers and students from their homes and learning while breathing toxic air was unbearable. Then the unimaginable hit home. A tragic car accident took the life of a PAA student along with several other young people.
In the daily work of a teacher, the quest for information, answers, and understanding is not just a job, it is a way of life. But for those called to the teaching ministry, life-long learning has it’s guaranteed hazards. The risks of the job include leading young people through valleys, dark forests, over steep hills, on rocky paths along sheer cliffs, and occasionally to mountain tops. And while it’s never been written into a teacher’s job description, it is to be expected that one working in education will one day end up being a quiet force of comfort in the life of a young person when there are no satisfying answers to their questions.
“Are we there yet?” “Why did this happen?” “Will life ever be normal again?”
In a world full of racism and hatred, smoke and fire, disease and death, mourning and grief, what does the Lord require of you? It is our sacred call to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. It is a sacred responsibility to sit with a young person in their grief.
Through the Micah 6:8 lens, our PAA community embraces sincerity and can share from their hearts about how they’re feeling and how they’re getting by in dark times. It’s how we can be real with each other. It is how we can sit in uncomfortable silence together. It is how we can apologize for our mistakes, offer to help carry the load, share advice, and find collective comfort from Jesus’ words “Peace Be Still.”
“I’m sorry. I was wrong. I’m still learning.” “No, we’re not there yet but I’m right here with you.“
Through our Micah 6:8 lens, we can join Pastor Stephen on his humble walk. We can actively work to grow our understanding of another person’s life-experience and recognize that to be anti-racist is a daily, moment-by-moment choice.
Through our Micah 6:8 lens, we can also join Ulani on her humble walk. We can commit to living out the very changes we hope to see in this dark world especially in our school and church.
Through our Micah 6:8 lens, we can join Profe on her humble walk. We can look back and see when we have missed the mark and to renew our commitment to “do better” now that we “know better” while resting assured that God is by our side in our personal growth.
Through our Micah 6:8 lens, we can walk humbly with our God knowing HE is the Healer. HE is the Peacemaker. HE covers our nature with His. HE supplies our courage. By walking together with our God, we walk in Love.
Resources for a Humble Walk
Self-Awareness: Implicit Bias Test (IAT) measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unaware of. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about.
Light Bearers’ Three-Part Study on Early Adventist Pioneers & Social Justice: Jeffrey Rosario, Douglas Morgan, Benjamin Baker, and Kevin Burton discuss Adventism’s historic legacy of engaging with the social and political issues of the world, exploring the Adventist pioneers’ engagement with, and protest against, the violations of human dignity in the United States of America. part 1 / part 2 / part 3
Adventist History: The Church on 8th Street “Both white and colored people have the same Creator and are saved by the redeeming grace of the same Savior. Christ gave His life for all. He says to all, “Ye are bought with a price” [1 Corinthians 6:20]. God has marked out no color line, and men should move very guardedly, lest we offend God. The Lord has not made two heavens, one for white people and one for colored people. There is but one heaven for the saved.” – Ellen White, 1908 in regards to the widespread, GC sanctioned move to segregated churches. (Spectrum Magazine)
NAD Ministerial: “5 Reasons Adventists Stink at Social Justice”
NAD Ministerial: “Not Racist is Not Enough”
Adventist History “Is There Racism in Our Church”
Adventist History: A Brutal Wake Up Call (2017)
Oregon Conference Pastor, Jackie James: “What Happens When the World Doesn’t Change?”
Know Your Adventist History: “But who will press the question of entire exclusion? Both white and colored people have the same Creator and are saved by the redeeming grace of the same Saviour. Christ gave His life for all. He says to all, “Ye are bought with a price” [1 Corinthians 6:20]. God has marked out no color line, and men should move very guardedly, lest we offend God. The Lord has not made two heavens, one for white people and one for colored people. There is but one heaven for the saved.” – Ellen White, 1908 (EGW Writings)
Adventist Record: A Deeper Dive into Micah 6:8 with Dr. David McClintock: “What Does the Lord Require?”
Learn about the Adventist pastor, former teacher and missionary, and only American to stay in Rawanda during the genocide to help people escape. Less than 30 years ago, the Rawanda genocide continues to teach us lessons about how dangerous it is to allow hate to live in our hearts. His story can be see HERE.