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  • Reverend James Squire

When Colors Come Together

Upon the death of Harry Belafonte at age 96, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., cultural critic and scholar, said in an interview that there has never been a singer that was popular with white middle class audiences as well as black audiences. He was an agent of change, the musical voice of civil rights.”

He encouraged his audience to sing along to calypso, protest, chain gang songs, the ballad “Danny Boy,” and the Hebrew folk song, Hava Naglia, and various renditions of Christian music including such favorites as Mary’s Boy Child, and I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. The haunting sound of Day-O still fill our hearts and souls with this work song. He rivaled Elvis. Elvis built Graceland but Belafonte used his funds to build the civil rights movement and the work of Dr. Martin Luther King. When Belafonte was 90, he produced an album, When Colors Come Together. The first stanza summarizes the importance of coming together and the words of the world’s most important global physician who died a year ago, Dr. Paul Farmer: “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”

Belafonte sang in When Colors Come Together:

“This is our island in the sun

A world that belongs to everyone

No one on this island is better than me

Colors together is the way it should be.”

These are the song and deed of diversity work or being woke which means to be awakened to injustice and not what the conservatives would have you believe. I have always seen the importance of honoring and supporting diversity in a school community because of the spirit captured in the above-mentioned lyric. I have always seen it not as a problem but as a real possibility that should be the goal of a community. I have always seen as well the value of the welcoming of differences in the other, or anyone different from me. Likewise, I have always seen it as value added not something to be silenced, a community where “no one is better than me or any other.” In Ethics Justice and equality are siblings.

EA was and is not perfect, but we made a concerted effort to live out the words of When Colors Come Together. Largely through word of mouth, I would receive calls from administrators in Episcopal schools asking what I was doing to support diversity work. They heard it was working at EA.

It is simple really in this complex world. It starts with the world belonging to everyone, no one better than another. Our nation is built on the goal of equality. Diversity and inclusion recognize differences but encourage someone to know your beliefs and realize that your belief system can be deepened, not changed, by knowing what others believe. Colors come together. You can’t be what you can’t see. You can’t operate as DeSantis does with “don’t say gay” which means “out of sight out of mind.” Nothing is more demeaning than making a person or group invisible.

One of the things that is a blessing in an Episcopal school community with diversity is that you experience diversity first hand which is different from a Christian parish, a Jewish synagogue, or Mosque where the belief systems for each is the same. I always believe that no matter how rich or poor or in the middle you are that once you cross the entrance into our school, we were all the same. This is hard to do because all institutions are fallible. At least, we know the goal, “Colors come together is the way it should be.”

You can’t be what you can’t see is true. When I marry couples who come out of the EA diverse community, I make sure that everyone sees their belief system in the marriage service if the couple represent different traditions. I had a wedding that may be an example of this. I blessed the marriage of a former student who was raised in both the Episcopal and Presbyterian traditions. Her sister and half of her family were Jewish, and this former student was being wed to someone whose family’s heritage was the Quaker tradition. We designed the service together. After all liturgy means “the work of the people.” The service was based in the Christian Episcopalian tradition (after all that is what I am and I need to be authentic to that tradition), but we included a moment of silence and an explanation of why that was important in the Quaker tradition. We also had additional prayers of the seven blessings which are included in a Jewish traditional wedding as well. This was followed by a traditional Christian benediction and the breaking of the glass at the end of the service symbolizing the destruction of the Temple and the fragile but important nature of relationships. It was a wedding service that was value added. Everyone could “see” themselves somewhere in the liturgy, colors that came together, but each uniquely different.

I have a proposal. Let’s challenge others to sing a song of their cancel culture beliefs against gay, transgender, unequal opportunity, poverty (recent words of Republican members of the House that these people need to work harder for their government assistance), antisemitism, racism, and support of a political criminal. What would their lyrics and title of their song be?

I would put Belafonte’s lyrics up against anyone’s because he once said, “You can cage the singer but not the song.” That is Belafonte’s legacy.

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