Editor’s note: In observance of Black History Month and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Fr. Alvan Amadi, who serves as administrator of St. Mary Parish in Algoma, offers this guest column.
Ms. Paiser, the second grade teacher at our parish school, stopped me in the hallway the other day as I was making my way down to get a copy from the printer. “When you have a moment, Father,” she said, “would you please come to my class to speak to the second graders? One of them just asked an important question and I think the rest would benefit from listening to your answer.”
“Sure,” I answered. “What was the question?” “Emily wanted to know why your skin tone is different from hers and everyone else’s in her class.” “That is truly a very important question,” I said, “and I would be delighted to come and talk about it.”
As I was thinking about what to say to these curious and intelligent young minds, I was initially tempted to tell them that I ate too much chocolate when I was little, hence my skin took on the color of chocolate. But that would not be true.
The next thing that came to mind was this simple statement: God loves diversity. It is impossible to read the Bible, especially the biblical account of creation in the book of Genesis, without arriving at this conviction. The innumerable species of flora and the uncountable varieties of fauna attest to this fact.
Our God revels and delights in the astonishing array of life forms that constitute the created order. “God looked at everything he had made and found it very good” (Gen 1:31). Moreover, the author of the book of Revelation speaks eloquently about the breathtaking diversity of the great multitude that surrounds God’s throne in heaven, offering right praise and worship “from every nation, race, people and tongue” (Rev 7:9). Put simply, God created the variety of skin tones because he loves diversity. If it were not the case, there will be only one flavor of ice cream — vanilla.
God in his providence prepares us to adapt and to thrive where we are born. As the old saying goes, God helps us “to flourish where we are planted.”
I was born in Nigeria, located on the western edge of the African continent. The country has two major seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season lasts approximately from April to early September while the dry season spans the months of October through the end of March. All year around, the temperature typically hovers around the 70s. It does, however, get warmer some days. It also cools down somewhat in November and December during what we call the “harmattan season,” when it gets windy, dry and dusty.
Since it is often warm and sunny, God has put something amazing called melanin into my skin to better protect it in this warm temperature and intense sunlight. This is what gives my skin the chocolate tone that I adore. If I did not have it, I could be badly sun-burnt and might suffer from skin cancer someday.
So, even though my skin does look different from yours, nonetheless, it needs gentle care and loving attention just like yours. Hence, in the summer, I need to put on sunscreen from time to time, just like everyone else. My skin feels pain and bleeds red when punctured just like everyone else’s skin.
Furthermore, thinking about my skin tone highlights for me the many ways we are different, yet similar. African-American poet and Pulitzer prize-winning author, Maya Angelou, said it beautifully when she observed that, “We are more alike than unalike.”
As this classroom interaction was going on, I was not quite sure at this point how much these smart second graders understood of what I was explaining until one of them interrupted with, “That’s so cool.” Another simply added, “Cool.” Then I knew that they got it. The nod and smile from their teacher, Ms. Paiser, who had been watching and listening all the while, seemed to also suggest that they got it.
I left the second-graders’ classroom that day with renewed hope in the possibility of building a world where people of different races, ethnic backgrounds and languages live in mutual love and respect as children of the one God and Father of all. This world of reconciled diversity is achievable when we truly believe that we are more alike than unalike.