by: Courtney Adams & Khadim Faye
“I don’t want a seat at a table that was never meant for me. I want to be part of building a new table.” – April Swoboda, MD.
At St HOPE, we affirm that all of our scholars have a unique place in our community. And, we affirm our unwavering belief on the importance of equipping all of our scholars with the necessary tools to build these very tables Dr. Swoboda mentions.
As parents, at the most basic level, we need to trust the schools our children attend. And, a large basis of that is knowing our children are seen–that they are loved–by those charged to care for them. Indeed, to love the children we teach goes beyond welcoming who they are–it means celebrating who they are!
At St HOPE, we celebrate our scholars. And, we fully celebrate the scholars within our Muslim community. It is within that celebration that we hope new tables are built both within St HOPE and beyond.
What does this look like in action? Read on to find out how St HOPE actively creates an inclusive, celebratory community for our Muslim scholars.
We Create a Safe Space for Listening
To create an equitable space for our scholars, we include them in conversations when creating decisions pertaining to the school. The support we put into place during Ramadan is no exception.
Three weeks prior to the start of Ramadan, St HOPE hosted a community meeting for anyone who wished to participate regarding how we can best support our Muslim scholars during this important holiday season.
This meeting began with one question: What are ways in which we can support the Muslim community so they feel supported and fully present, particularly during the month of Ramadan?
Creating an Inclusive Community is a COLLECTIVE Responsibility
Yes, many present during this meeting were Muslim scholars and staff; but, we encouraged school decision makers to also be present, regardless of religious affiliation. Not only did this ensure that some of the ideas could logistically occur; but, celebrating one another doesn’t occur in a vacuum.
The expectation of building these new tables must not fall solely on the shoulders of those who have historically been silenced. This act of celebrating is one that must happen among all of us–and St HOPE does so joyfully.
The attendance of such varied participants in this meeting showed our scholars that they are valued, seen, and indeed celebrated by the entire community.
“I just appreciate how everyone is so supportive and respectful of my culture here. You’ll notice many people in our school community who are Arabic or Muslim. I not only personally feel respected, I feel like we are all respected as a community.”
– 2022 8th Grade Graduate
“Every year St HOPE continues to amaze me. As a former student inside these walls, and beyond, I was never given the opportunity to practice my faith during school. I am honored to take part of the tables being built in hopes that other institutes will adopt and reap the same benefits.”
– Mr. Faye, Physical Education Teacher
We Turn Suggestions Into Actionable Results
It was suggested to have a prayer space during the school lunch time so Muslim scholars could come together in prayer and community during a time that surely presents unique challenges during Ramadan. And, for this to be most successful, it was suggested to have more than one prayer space, with the goal being to have at least two sinks available for Wudu purification. From a logistical perspective, for this to happen as seamlessly as possible meant that both prayer spaces needed to either be near the bathrooms, or be within classrooms that had sinks.
After the suggestions at the meeting were gathered, they were presented to the principal, who was able to thoroughly review the school schedule. At that point, she confirmed the building library was free after confirming with the other principals in the building. This room provided the most open and uncluttered space to allow for more prayer participants. And, the classroom across the hall from the library had a sink.
Both of these spaces were in close proximity to the bathrooms–which maximized sink availability to ensure that washing hands and feet could occur as quickly as possible.
Our school custodial staff was another stakeholder in ensuring the prayer was well facilitated. Together with the school operations staff, the school principal communicated the plan to use the library as a Ramadan prayer space. So, the custodial staff provided spare library keys to the teachers who would be supervising and participating in the Ramadan prayer.
Equipped with these spare keys, our participating staff was able to ensure the library was unlocked and that they were able to meet our scholars by the library in ample time to ensure prayer began as seamlessly as possible.
When our scholars returned to school after Eid, our staff members who hosted the Ramadan prayer time also hosted a celebratory pizza party for our Muslim scholars with St HOPE’s full encouragement and support. It was a joyous way to celebrate the holiday as a community.
Coming Together to Build the Table We Wish to See
One of my favorite children’s books to read to my daughter surrounds a woman’s dilemma when a bird steals her special birthday hat on the way to her birthday dinner. Various members of her neighborhood come together to help her in different ways–letting her borrow their own hats, sitting with her as she eats her birthday cake, and even making her a brand new hat. When I finish reading books to my daughter, I always ask what her favorite part was. She’s pretty young, so this often entails me asking her questions she can’t yet answer, knowing she’ll get there some day! With this book, I always say, “Isn’t it nice how coming together as a community can make things better?”
Here at St HOPE, we like to take a point or two from this very theme: coming together as a community does make everything better. Creating both the emotional and physical space for community is a wonderful, celebratory way for all of our scholars to be seen and to feel that they are loved, welcome, and celebrated.
It is with our deepest affirmation we encourage all schools to go ahead and build those new tables. And, they’ll be better communities because of it.