“In Your name I will hope, for Your name is good.” (Psalm 52:9)
I have spent three weeks now at Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, a faith-based school located in Richmond’s East End, providing full-tuition scholarships to students of limited economic resources. The school began in the basement of a church with just over 10 students by people who had a vision and sought to serve in an area where educational opportunities were limited.
Though AJC started a bit earlier, this past week was the first day of school for most public schools all over the city of Richmond. As I drove the bus route to pick up my students in Mosby Court, I saw kids walking to school with their backpacks on and their brand new shoes, lightly stepping around puddles so as to avoid getting any scuffs. I thought about the schools that so many of these children were heading off to. I thought about the extreme lack of funding and resources provided to these schools. I thought about the security guards and the metal detectors and the hopelessness that many of the students and teachers may feel upon walking through the doors in the morning. While my heart began to fill with feelings of hopelessness, I thought back to the first day of school for the students at AJC.
Every day at AJC all the students gather in the morning for assembly. Each day begins with a reading from scripture followed by prayer requests along with a prayer over the day and the students. Every day at AJC begins with hope. On this first day of school, a student read a passage from Romans: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” The head of school then looked around at all the students and told them “This morning when each of you stepped into this building you gained a new family. Everyone in this room is part of your family, and each person in this room brings their own gifts and talents that make up this body. You are all special and unique in your own way and you must all look out for one another and treat one another like brothers and sisters in Christ.” I could hear him continue in my head, as joy began to creep back over me. God was in this space and God was doing a great work at AJC. Though many kids would not be hearing this message on their first day of school, 108 kids were. I thought about the teachers who were there solely to love these kids deeply and carefully, and to provide them with opportunities. Even amidst the schools and neighborhoods torn by poverty and oppression, God is moving. Even in the small school of only 108 students, there was a glimmer of hope and light amidst the darkness.
In that moment, I remembered the necessity of hope. It is so easy to feel hopeless when I look at the state of the world and the state of our neighborhoods stricken by generations of poverty. Though it comes easily, I must not stay there. I must turn my eyes towards the hope that God provides and dwell on the good things I have seen that God has already done and is doing. God is the only real and true source of hope in this world devastated by suffering. If I do not have hope then I can do nothing. Without hope, transformative work cannot be carried through. Though the pain and suffering builds around us, we must persist in the hope that God is a good God and a God that keeps promises. That God is the God of restoration, transformation, and reconciliation. That God is working and will continue to work in and through those who seek to bring God’s love and mercy here on Earth.
Find rest, o my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5)