22 Jul The Hard Relationships: Diversity and Unity
One of the things I love most about my work with Mill Village Farms is the diversity of students that we serve.
Most of our students come from the “inner city” neighborhoods in which we are located, but we intentionally recruit teenagers from outside those neighborhoods. We want students from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences, knowing that every youth has something to learn from and give to others.
(And with 90 teenagers who applied for 30 jobs this summer, we had a pretty big pool to choose from!)
But with that diversity, we also strive for unity. We could easily recruit students who are already friends, or a variety of students but then group them into like-minded teams. But that wouldn’t be true diversity. As best we can, we mix up the teams. We want them to work with and learn how to get along with peers whom they might not normally associate with. In Beyond Integration, Kendra Yoshinaga writes, “Kids who make friends with kids of other races tend to be more socially well-adjusted, more academically ambitious and better at interacting with people who are different from them.”
This summer we have students from different . . .
- ethnicities (black, white, hispanic, and mixed),
- family dynamics (2-parent families, blended families, single parents, living with grandparents only, and adopted)
- ages (rising 9th graders to rising 12th graders)
- interests (too many to list!)
- schools (the youth represent fifteen different schools)
For the most part, having this diversity has gone smoothly. We’ve seen students become friends and hang out (outside of our program times) with those who come from different backgrounds. My own daughter benefited from this, during her first year working for Mill Village in 2015. She got to know students who would be classmates at her school, which helped her adjust to her first year of public school.
Sometimes misunderstandings and hard feelings flare up, leading to tensions and uncomfortable moments.
But we have also seen struggles. Sometimes misunderstandings and hard feelings flare up, leading to tensions and uncomfortable moments. In these times, we have the opportunity to step in, and help the youth navigate their emotions, and help them learn to understand and respect each other.
We saw that this summer within the very first week. Two solid young men grew closer as they worked on the same crew, like brothers-from-other-mothers. But both of them, strong-willed as they are, assumed that “being a leader” meant telling others what to do. We had to help them see that unity is much more important than being right.
A few weeks later, we found out that two young ladies (again, both from very different backgrounds) had been acting passive-aggressively towards each other. It started almost a week earlier, as a simple result of poor communication plus misunderstanding. By the time we found out, neither of them wanted to talk about it or resolve it. But we knew they had to, for their sakes and for our program.
We had to help them see that unity is much more important than being right.
Without recounting the entire reconciliatory conversation, I’ll tell you that the result was beautiful. Each young lady had a chance to communicate how she was hurt by the other, and also what they did to hurt the other one. Even more, both willingly shared some of their background, the deep pain they had each experienced their short lives. The conversation ended with greater understanding, mutual affirmation, a commitment to be there for each other, and not a few tears (me included).
So why does this matter? Well, if you haven’t noticed (yea, right) we have some pretty big tensions going on in our country. We have groups of people from all perspectives who are struggling to understand and be understood. People are struggling to grasp the beauty of diversity, and struggling to understand that diversity and unity are not easy, but they are worth the effort.
After a tumultuous week of shootings across the country, I told our teens, “You know what would be easy? If we only hired 18 of your best friends. If we just hired kids who thought alike and came from the same neighborhoods and backgrounds, our job would be so much easier. But we’d be missing out. You’d be missing out.”
People are struggling to grasp the beauty of diversity, and struggling to understand that diversity and unity are not easy, but they are worth the effort.
I don’t know what we can do to solve all the problems we see in our culture. But I am thankful that Mill Village Farms gets to to be part of the solution. By equipping youth to navigate the hard relationships, which include both diversity and unity, I know that we are showing what God’s kingdom is supposed to look like.
“After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9)
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)