On Wednesday, the MacArthur Foundation announced its selection of the 2017 “genius” grant recipients — a group of 24 extraordinary individuals who use their creativity to benefit society. As I scrolled through the list of awardees, who range in profession from historian to landscape architect to opera director, I cheered when I saw the name of Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Hannah-Jones is a journalist who writes lucidly about a complex subject: racial inequality and school segregation in modern America. I have followed her work closely ever since I read her essay Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City in the New York Times Magazine (if you haven’t already, stop and read it now). In it, I learned that “black children are more segregated than they have been at any point in nearly half a century,” which has led to deeply unequal public schools. Hannah-Jones’ experience as a racial minority in a nearly all-white school as a child, coupled with her struggle to decide what was the “best” school for her daughter, challenged me to reframe my decisions. Whether rich or poor, black or white, I knew my choice had to be rooted in the belief that all of God’s children — not just my own — deserve an education in a healthy, thriving school. And, the best way to help public schools is through integration.
In my city of Minneapolis, kids in certain neighborhoods (mostly white and upper income) attend schools with all the bells and whistles, whereas those who live elsewhere (mostly minority and high poverty) attend schools with far fewer resources. Minneapolis, as a result, has the largest achievement gap between white and black students in the nation. Where you can afford to live, in many cases, determines your access to high performing schools.
Hannah-Jones’ work pushed me to consider an elementary school for my child that I might have otherwise ignored. It has been one month into my daughter’s first year and, so far, everything has been amazing. Even so, I am eager to read the book that Hannah-Jones is currently writing about school inequality. With the $625,000 grant she receives as a MacArthur Fellow to fund her work, I hope it will be in my hands soon.
Who are the geniuses that have inspired you? I hope you take a moment to celebrate one this week. I, for one, am rejoicing at the work of journalists like Hannah-Jones who shine a light on inequality in America in creative, troubling ways. They inspire me to consider a different, more beautiful future for kids in this country. One that looks more and more like the Kingdom of God.
Lament: Sexual Assault
The news of Harvey Weinstein’s many sexual assaults over decades as a powerful Hollywood producer has settled in my stomach, leaving me queasy. One of my friends confessed that, after reading about the charges, she has had trouble sleeping and eating. Hundreds of people knew about Weinstein’s reputation as a sexual predator, yet there was no accountability for a man drunk on power and entitlement. It’s a news story that has been repeated over and over in recent years, from Bill O’Reilly to Roger Ailes to Bill Cosby. And, for many women, hearing stories from Weinstein’s victims has triggered memories of last year’s leaked tapes, in which our current President bragged about assaulting women. He said, “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
The sad reality is that many women have a story like the ones being shared by Weinstein’s victims. According to RAINN, one in six women will experience a rape or attempted rape in their lifetime and the statistics are even higher for sexual assault. What is it, in our culture, that leads powerful men to believe they are entitled to women’s bodies? How long must these stories of abuse trickle outward before something changes? How many more women will live years in shame and silence while their abusers walk free?
I am especially angry at those who downplay assault, who brush it aside, who set up an environment that enables predators to continue preying on women. I am thankful that more and more women are speaking up, from the famous actresses victimized by Weinstein to evangelical leaders like Beth Moore who tweeted last fall: “Wake up, Sleepers, to what women have dealt with all along in environments of gross entitlement & power. Are we sickened? Yes. Surprised? NO.”
Turning toward lament means embracing – not numbing – our anger at a world where women are not surprised by sexual assault. It means turning our hopeless questions over to God and furiously pounding our fists at the brokenness all around us. Lament means listening to the women who are grabbed, coerced, and silenced. It means sussing out the dynamics of power and patriarchy all around us; it means praying over our daughters and sons.