Our blogger this week is Pastor Sam Acevedo from Congregation Lion of Judah. Sam Acevedo is the Executive Director of the Boston Higher Education Resource Center (HERC) since its founding in 1999. He also serves as one of the founding Co-Chairs of the Boston School Committee’s Opportunity and Achievement Gap Task Force. Today, Pastor Sam shares about the need to prayerfully repent and act to change the “Digital Divide” on behalf of our city’s most vulnerable children.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:17 (ESV)
Sometimes it takes a crisis to inspire us to do what we ought to have done all along. To do what was always within our power to do, but we lacked the will to do. And it often takes an arc of years – decades, even generations – to appreciate the depth and devastation of what the ancients called our “sins of omission”. Our “Lord, I should have . . .” sins.
Take, for instance, the “Digital Divide”. The first time I heard that term was at a conference in Worcester some 17 years ago. It was becoming evident that lack of access to data, and the technology that transmitted that data (personal computers and broadband), was opening a new and alarming gap in racial equity and economic opportunity; and that this “divide” threatened most devastatingly the children and youth of black and Latino households. In the room, and at the podium, was a sampling of those who would arguably play an influential role in closing that divide: people in philanthropy; elected officials; corporate, non-profit, and academic leaders. “We should do something about this,” they all concluded with great urgency, before we adjourned and went home. But as late as last March 2020 – as school buildings closed in response to the global pandemic, hurtling 50,000 BPS children into compulsory “remote learning” – 1 in 3 Black and Latino households in America still lacked access to computers and broadband.
What to do? Within two weeks of the school closures, Boston Public Schools was distributing 20,000 new Chromebooks to home-bound students of color throughout Boston. Another 10,000 Chromebooks went out to BPS families this Fall. No internet access? Portable “hotspots” suddenly appeared in homes with no previous wireless access; cable companies, sounding magnanimous, waved contract fees and other barriers to connectivity. Eureka. A yawning “Digital Divide” – that everyone was aware had persisted for decades – was being bridged, seemingly overnight. But where did all this stuff come from? And why did it take so long? And why did it take this – a global pandemic – to address it?
Now take Exam School admissions . . . It is axiomatic that black, Latino, and other students of color are woefully underrepresented among those enrolled in BPS’ elite schools. It is so axiomatic that for generations – easily over 100 years – there has been one attempt or another to see more children of color enrolled in Boston’s top-shelf public schools, but little has ever changed. It is, in fact, so axiomatic that eight years ago, when the organization I run – the Boston Higher Education Resource Center (HERC) – began sending Coaches into BPS classrooms to pave a path to college for first-generation BPS youth, we made a conscious decision to focus on “non-exam” high schools: 82% of Black and Latino kids attend a school other than an Exam School, we reasoned – and the few who did make it into an Exam School would be “fine”.
So I was bewildered when God – and I am now quite convinced it was God – had me serving this summer on the Exam School Working Group, convened to do two things: (1) figure out how to do “Exam School” admissions in a year beset by interrupted learning, and where having masses of children sitting for an actual “exam” would be unwise; and (2) figure out, if possible, how to see more students of color admitted to BPS’ elite schools. For six weeks, four hours a week, we poured over the data. As we did, I sensed the Holy Spirit confronting me and convicting me, deeply. The data shook what we knew, or thought we knew, about our black, Latino, and other historically-marginalized children, and their path to Boston’s Exam Schools. A path, we saw, that was laden with disheartening obstacles as early as third grade. “No wonder – why hasn’t anyone seen this before now?” That data was telling us, as our hearts sank, that there would be no magic bullet, no quick fix. We did what we could to recommend a path forward for the 1,100 children seeking admission to our Exam Schools in the wake of a global pandemic. And we steeled ourselves for the long, and difficult, work of ending generations of inequity keeping our black and Brown children from the best education BPS has to offer.
It can be done. That is the good news. It’s just going to take time. And the will to do it.
The COVID-19 crisis has shone a glaring beam of inescapable truth, exposing these long-ignored inequities to the surface, and eliminating “inaction” as an option. It is just like God – the Defender of the powerless, the Voice of the voiceless – to do that. “Now, you must see; now, you must mourn,” the Lord seems to be saying, “Now, you must act.” As a community we can celebrate that, after decades, we are finding the way, the means, and the will, to do or at least begin to do, for our most vulnerable children, what we long ago should have done. But we must also stand, in community repentance, for the countless generations of children whose lives might have turned out very differently, if we had done far sooner what a crisis is compelling us to do now.
Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. The “Lord, I should have . . .” sins are often the hardest to identify, and repent of, and confess. As a community. And as individuals who will stand before the eyes of a holy God who sees into our hearts. It is a wonderful act of grace that the Lord should reveal to us, and entrust us with, “the right thing to do”. May He add to that, the grace to actually do it.
Prayer: Lord we bring to you our “I should have . . . “ sins. Ours, and the “I should have . . . “ sins of our people. We love our children, God, especially those who face seemingly insuperable hurdles to endure, to overcome, and to succeed. And we thank you for the treasures you have bestowed on this community – the teachers, the administrators, those in government, those in philanthropy, those in academia, those in ministry, those who lead schools, those who lead businesses, those who lead churches – everything and everyone needed to execute the desires of your Heart, and to see your will done on earth as it is in Heaven. Bless the children of Boston Public Schools. And give us the means – and the will – to bless them, as well.
More on Supporting Urban Schools
The Boston Education Collaborative is currently recruiting volunteers to remotely help teachers with their Zoom classes as well as tutoring in after school/before school programs – They are currently at 1/5 of the way of their goal to get 150 volunteers! More info here.
“Behold, I am Doing A New Thing” – a blog written by Ruth Wong about how God has been at work through the pandemic in nurturing new collaborations between churches and city institutions.
“The Church and the Village: The Value of Church/School Partnerships” – a blog written by Pastor Barry Kang about the value of churches supporting schools.