In our podcast, Just Conversation with Jamal and Nate, which is positioned at the nexus of faith & all matters pertaining to race, justice, and Catholic education, my co-host Nate Sessoms and I often state that the path to a more just and egalitarian society is paved by each of us growing our own capacity and skills to build inclusive communities. We’ve encouraged our listeners to practice active listening, learn to lean into their discomfort, and stay engaged in the conversation.
Our podcast also acknowledges that a considerable part of the work is personal, calling on us to reflect on our values, perspectives, and biases. I think today’s readings ask us to focus on faith and situate belonging as the pillar of a thriving community. In the Gospel, Jesus states, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for what he does, the Son will do also.” Here, Jesus bears witness that he is connected to the Father and that the lessons he offers are based on his faith in this cooperative relationship. It strikes me that our ability to thrive in our communities is through our intentional focus on the reciprocal relationship between faith and community. Although we each have our very personal relationship with God, we best serve his will by interacting and living with each other and building his beloved community.
Researcher and author Dr. Josh Packard of the Springtide Institute focuses his work on encouraging the disassociated back into the church. One of his fundamental findings expresses that many young people yearning for community have stated that “belonging comes before belief.” In my various roles in education as teacher, coach, director of equity and inclusion, and now as a principal, my success has always been predicated on building a team and helping others reach their full potential. Relationships have been a key in creating a sense of belonging within these communities. Dr. Packard’s work encourages us to see human interaction as a continuum, focusing on helping new members move from being noticed; to being named; to being known. Being intentional about how we come to know one another is at the heart of building a bigger tent where everyone is seen, heard, and loved.
- What strategies have you used to move relationships from the initial stage of being noticed to being named? How about techniques that move us to a deeper relationship from being named to being known? What parables of Jesus can we highlight that bring this process to light?
- What barriers have you experienced regarding belonging as you have entered into new communities? Were you able to overcome them? Did that require someone’s help?
- When examining the culture of your community, what are your welcoming rituals? Do they provide new members the opportunity to see themselves in the community and express themselves authentically?
Jamal Adams is the principal at La Salle College Preparatory School in Pasadena, California. Prior to joining the Lasallian community, Adams served Loyola High School of Los Angeles as its director of equity and inclusion and director of faculty. As director of equity and inclusion, he instituted programs and projects that centered on deepening a culture of belonging on campus across affinity groups, with parents-guardians and other stakeholders from the community. He is the co-author of an essay “Teaching as a Practice Rooted in Black Brotherhood,” featured in an anthology entitled Teaching Black: The Craft of Teaching on Black Life and Literature (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020). In addition to his publication, he is the co-host of a podcast, Just Conversations: Race, Faith, and Catholic Education, sponsored by the Ignatian Solidarity Network.