Dr. Beverly Tatum has written several powerful books on race and ethnicity. Her national bestseller, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race, eloquently addresses the psychology of racism and racial identity. I recently had the privilege of hearing Dr. Tatum speak at a local university. She presented an illustration that I will never forget.
There were approximately 50 of us crowded into a small conference room and Dr. Tatum sat on the stage in front of us, a picture of regality. She described a hypothetical, but familiar scenario. She asked the audience to imagine standing on the stage with her for a group picture to commemorate the time together. She described a photographer using a polaroid camera to take the group picture. The room was silent as everyone quietly envisioned getting up on stage with the poised Dr. Tatum and taking a group picture together. She asked the audience what would happen after the picture printed from the polaroid camera and was passed around the room. Instinctively everyone knew the same thing. The first thing you would do is search for yourself in the picture.
She asked us to imagine how we would feel if, to our surprise, we were not in the picture at all. Dr. Tatum went on to describe a scenario where a group of people take a picture together, but upon examination, you discover that you have been erased from the photo. The spot where you stood is empty.
Why We Celebrate Black History Month
I always remember that analogy. I especially think of it when asked why we celebrate Black History Month. African Americans often do not see themselves, their stories, their impact, and their contributions told in history unless it is in the context of their enslavement. African Americans have contributed richly to the development of our country in medicine, science, music, sports and more. Yet, when we go back and look at the polaroid picture that history tells, we often find ourselves missing.
The contributions of African Americans should be shared and integrated into the everyday curriculum and teaching of history. February is a month that not only acknowledges the contributions of African Americans but also concedes the need for a collective “selah moment.” Selah means “pause, think about it.” We must recognize the need for Black History Month is birthed from scarcity of representation. The impact and influence of African Americans should not need to be “photoshopped” back into the picture, an addendum to our taught history. Pause, think about it.
As our schools, churches, and communities become increasingly diverse, this is a great opportunity for parents to share with children the beauty and diversity that God has created. Diversity extends past different skin color, but also diverse thoughts, ideas, creativity, skills, assets, and accomplishments of African Americans. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made, and we all bare the image of our Creator. This makes it possible and probable that diversity is reflected in our history and the building and establishing of American culture and traditions. Cherishing and celebrating these things is a way of celebrating the beauty and creativity of our God. While this is a great opportunity to reflect on the importance of representation, I want to encourage us to go deeper as we consider our cultural climate.
Words like justice, diversity and even unity are words that have recently been co-opted and politicized by the world. However, as believers, we care about issues of justice because God cares about issues of justice (Isaiah 30:18). The Bible has a lot to say about the oppressed and the oppressor and therefore we care about oppression too (Ezekiel 22:29). He also speaks clearly about unity and celebration of cultures (Revelation 7:9). So, we too move toward unity and celebrate diversity. Loving one another and treating others with respect, dignity and kindness is the sign of a true believer (John 13:35), and advocating for those who are historically disenfranchised or marginalized is the sign of one who shares God’s heart for justice (Proverbs 31:8-9).
And yet, all of these topics have become contentious in recent years. How then, as believers, are we to navigate these topics in our schools? We are called to be steadfast in the faith, unmovable! Our motivation is not to be politically correct cultural consumers, but rather, to be biblically sound followers of Christ, giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord.
Resources for Cross-Cultural Missions
UnifiEd, the Center for Hope and Unity is an organization that provides resources for Christian schools to think cross-culturally about their mission. Our resource list offers data-driven analysis and theologically rooted solutions. UnifiEd’s core staff is comprised of educators and consultants who have spent a significant amount of time at Christian schools and conferences equipping educators to pursue education cross-culturally from a Christ-centered perspective.
We’ve witnessed an encouraging trend of schools hiring a diversity director or adding cross-cultural/diversity responsibilities to an existing teacher or administrator. In both cases, this is new territory and there is often little direction or support to do the job with excellence. This is why UnifiEd exists! Our purpose is not to be the expert for you, but to offer you resources so you are the expert and are able to facilitate sustainable progress at your school. Some schools have little diversity on their campus, but our world is diverse. It is important to train students to engage the world they live in with the love of Christ, not because of culture, but because of Jesus.
About the Author
Tia Gaines is the Associate Director of Social Equity and Community as the University of Pennsylvania. She also serves as the Executive Director at UnifiEd: A Center for Hope and Unity. She is a writer and conference speaker who devotes herself to advocating for diversity, unity, and belonging within Christian education as well as innovation and technology. She has worked in education for over 20 years, including time teaching internationally, online, and in both suburban and urban contexts. Tia has created curriculum and resource material on the topic of cultural humility, as well as intercultural competency, dialogue, and reflection with a specific love and passion for urban education, community engagement, and school partnerships. Her work with school partnerships includes her role as Director of Curriculum and Community Engagement, a shared position between Delaware County Christian School and The City School, Philadelphia. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Association of Christian Schools International. Tia and her husband Joel reside in Philadelphia and have four children: Josiah, Hosanna, Eliana and Adoniah.
Note: This article was originally published in February 2022 and republished in February 2024 due to continued relevance.