CASC Lumen Magazine_Winter 2021

Catholic Education

And while many Catholic schools, whose classrooms are increasingly expanding in cultural diversity, are working to increase diversity on their faculty, he warns against tokenism. “Equity doesn’t just mean having African Americans on your teaching staff,” he says. “Once they’re in your school, you have to ask yourself, are you developing them as teachers, are you developing them to be leaders?” Benner, who won a settlement against Saint Paul Public Schools in 2019, knows these challenges personally. He was forced to quit his teaching position there when the school district retaliated against him for criticizing the district’s racial equity policy, which set lower standards for African American students. It was an especially stressful season, but Benner, a daily communicant, was bolstered by his faith. “It was like God was saying to me, ‘I’m going to take care of you.’ We just have an amazing God. I am not going to apologize for what God has done in my life.”

Benner says, “but it all comes back to the Bible: I have to forgive! I have to forgive people who might harmme, who might discriminate against me. ... That’s tough, but that’s Christlike. I don’t want that to be forgotten when we talk about the Church and equity and racism.” Benner himself attended Catholic school as a child, calling it “a game changer” in his life. He graduated from Saint Agnes School having received an award for his outstanding work in religion class as a senior. He recalls, “The nuns at Saint Agnes taught me the faith from the ground up and I just fell in love with it. “I hope to bring some practical solutions that Catholic leaders can share in their own schools,” he says. “Even something as simple as having pictures of Catholic saints in the hallways from the wide array of backgrounds and ethnicities represented there. Children need to see saints who look like them.” In face of the racism he has experienced himself he says, “I could choose hate if I wanted to, but that’s what the devil wants.

Aaron Benner ’92, ’95, ’20 MA

“There’s a new push to be in people’s faces, to be angry,”

“I have hope.”

Emily Dahdah

“We need to work and ask for the grace to build a culture of encounter, of this fruitful encounter, this encounter that returns to each person their dignity as children of God, the dignity of living. We are accustomed to this indifference, [whether it be] when we see the calamities of this world or when faced with the little things. We limit ourselves to saying: ‘Oh, what a shame, poor people, they suffer so much,’ and then we move on. An encounter, however, is different: If I do not look, – seeing is not enough, no: look – if I do not stop, if I do not look, if I do not touch, if I do not speak, I cannot create an encounter and I cannot help to create a culture of encounter.” – POPE FRANCIS

St. Thomas Lumen Fall/Winter 2021 Page 7

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