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  • Reverend James Squire

Mssssssssssssssss Engle

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

During this time of Covid 19 and Black Lives Matter protests there is a quotation from Dr. King that appears quite frequently in the media: “I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other. They don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”

It was a Friday afternoon after completing co teaching a course on Diversity with our Director of Diversity, Courtney Portlock. We finished a two-week deep dive into the issues regarding racism and the other isms. We ended by taking the class to see the movie “Selma”.

When I returned to the office that Friday, I received a phone call from a representative of the 50th reunion class who told me that the unanimous choice of the class was Clemmie Engel to address the Alumni Day Chapel. Among many things she is transgender, an award-winning attorney and someone honored by the LGBT community. This all male class was very fond of Clemmie as she was a great scholar, athlete, and classmate. The person who called me went on and on in glowing terms about her. I asked him to introduce Clemmie at the Chapel service with the same glowing terms. I did this for I believe that all the “isms” are removed once you get to know someone. They are no longer a label but become a person you know and value.

A few weeks before Clemmie spoke, the Vestry and I had Joan Mulholland speak in Chapel about social justice and the Civil Rights Movement. She is the white woman who is photographed with black people at a Woolworth lunch counter with ketchup being poured over her head. She was beaten and berated. She took a stand and paid a price including her parents disowning her. Her theme was civil rights is something that should never be taken for granted.

A few weeks later Clemmie was introduced by the representative from the 50th reunion class at the Alumni Chapel that underscored how she was unanimously chosen by her classmates. Clemmie picked up where Joan left off with the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement at Stonewall. Clemmie also spoke about her struggles as an attorney such as when one judge who always asked her in front of the courtroom the question, “Is Mssssssssssssss Engle ready?”

There were some in the school community that were not happy with me having Clemmie speak. I invited them to come and hear what she has to say. When she finished there was a standing ovation by those gathered in the Chapel. I could see that some members were seated in protest.

Two things in diversity work: (1) Always take a stand but listen carefully and respectfully to those who disagree with you. (2) Everyone is paying a price? What is the price that you and I are paying? Is it worth it? Is it making the world a better place?”

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