Saturday, June 17, 2006

Is separation and segregation really the way to go?

I was reading through a newsletter I received from another non-profit this morning. It made me think back several years ago when I had first come in contact with them. This particular non-profit was attempting to involve more inner-city groups in their camp at the time. After agreeing to take a group of kids, I remember a lady calling and explaining to me that since our group was small, they would make sure that they found another inner city group to go with us. I can still remember my irritation at that comment. Why could our inner-city kids not be in a group with any random group who signed up to go? Of course, I posed that question to her, to which she replied, "They just don't have the Bible knowledge that the other kids have." Once again, I was shocked and appalled! How did she know that?! She had never even met the kids I would be taking! I encouraged her at that point to make sure we were signed up with a NON inner-city group. I then discussed the issue with one of their board members. They listened. Over the years it has gotten much better. We still attend the camp. And if our group isn't big enough, we are often combined with other suburban churches.

Why is that so important? It's not the reason some people might think. I think some people figure that the reason combining groups must be good is so that the inner-city kids can see a "different way of life." (I've heard that many times before). I look at it differently. Of course I want our group to be with different groups so that they can get to know other people. But I also think it's important for us to be with other groups so they can get to know us!

Contrary to popular belief, inner-city kids and teens often know a whole lot about suburban children. They are faced with them all the time. Our society focuses on middle class, primarily white, lifestyles. However, those middle class, primarily white children don't often know about our low-income, predominantly Black and Hispanic children. The images they receive of children in those situations are of criminals, impoverished people, victims, who are uneducated. I would argue that it is the suburban children who need our children, not the other way around.

Don't get me wrong. I think that we can all learn from each other. But I think most of the time people with good hearts are trying to put poor, inner-city children in situations to help them learn something instead of thinking about what the poor, inner-city child has to teach someone else--perhaps their own child.

We separate and segregate a lot. We say it's for the good of the child. I would argue that it's probably more to allow us to remain in our comfort zone. We say separating children in blind schools, special ed schools, gay/lesbian schools, etc. allows that school to provide specific and specialized resources more efficiently to a group of children. But what happens later in life? What does segregating children teach all of us about approaching each other in life after school? And what does it say about our willingness to share our resources with others who may not have as much? Because we've been separating and segregating for so long, it's extremely challenging to think of restructuring. But I have no doubt it can be done. It starts with us. It starts with our choices for ourselves and our children.
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