By Ransome Oginni, Bradford and Keighley
Last week I was able to attend my first National Team Day with The Feast, after joining in the Autumn of last year. This was a day that I had been very much looking forward to from the moment it was announced and I am glad to say that I was not disappointed.
Uzma and I travelled down together by train and were warmly greeted by Jill and the rest of the team. It was great to meet some volunteers, new staff members and experienced staff members. The comradery was good and it was encouraging to hear the vision of The Feast in a presentation led by Tim.
The hints & tips on running youth encounters which was led by Steve and Dumaeza was very enjoyable and I found their advice helpful. Our keynote speaker for the day was Bev Thomas who led training on diversity – a session I found extremely insightful, challenging and left me with a lot to digest and process.
There were two videos in particular that we watched that really got me thinking. The first video was called the DNA Journey, in which individuals from different parts of the world took part in an experiment where they would have their DNA collected. All the participants had preconceived notions that they were predominantly from one race or thought they knew the limit of their multiracial background, however when the results came back they were shocked to see the many different parts of the world that they all had ancestors from. This technology was eye opening to me and I felt like it was something that should be a compulsory part of our education system, as this knowledge of how interconnected and multiracial we are in our ancestry would rip the rug from under the feet of racist ideologies.
The second video was on Jane Elliott’s 1960’s children’s social experiment, in which she has a classroom of third grade students and treated them differently based on the colour of their eyes – blue or brown. The initial setup was that the children who had blue eyes were good, smart and superior and that brown-eyed kids were inferior in every way and not to be played with. Whilst the blue-eyed children were to receive privileges, the brown-eyed children were made to feel second class. At the beginning one or two children spoke up and said that’s not true but after the teacher tried to influence them by making up some lies they soon fell for it and accepted what she told them as gospel with very little resistance or objection. The results were that the blue-eyed kids enjoyed the benefits they had but sadly they also started to make fun of the brown-eyed kids and the brown-eyed kids felt sad and hurt and did not perform well in the tests they were given.
The next day the roles were reversed and the blue-eyed kids were told they were inferior and the brown-eyed kids superior, so the brown-eyed kids, immediately forgetting the pain they went through could not wait to be the ones in the seat of power and behave exactly the same as the blue-eyed kids did when they had the privileges and this is what they do – interestingly they also perform better in the tests that they did the day before. The improvement in test results suggest that the impact of the environment you are in and what you believe about yourself have a strong impact on your performance.
One of my colleagues, Ulrike, made a good comment, that if the children knew the truth and spoke up at the beginning of the class had stuck to what they knew was true then the teacher would not have had that power over them and they would have been in a good position to influence their classmates, therefore the teacher would not have been able to manipulate the whole class so easily. I feel that this partly encapsulates some of what The Feast is trying to do in working with young people with regards to breaking down misconceptions, stereotypes, building resilience and equipping them to be able to influence others in their community in a positive way.
There is a Bible verse (John 8:32) that says that you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free. The Feast can help young people dispel misconceptions that they may have about another group of people of a different faith or culture to them. I am a firm believer that the Youth Encounters we run also gives us an opportunity to help young people see where there may be subconscious, inbuilt prejudices, superiority or inferiority complexes against other groups of people that are different to them.
Bev Thomas made a comment, “we know what we know”. She was talking in the context of language but it is true for a wide range of things. For example let’s say people Group A have been taught a mistruth by the media about people Group B, without having any proper personal interaction with them people Group A would go on believing this mistruth. It is only when they are brought together in a safe environment where they can ask deep questions freely that they can only then really know the truth about each other.
The day was a very mentally stimulating day, and an emotional one too. I left with questions and thoughts which I am still processing but in my personal way of thinking and as a Christian some of my thoughts and conclusions from all I took away are as follows:
The DNA Journey video showed us that we are all connected to more than just one “race” and really and truly there is only one true race, the human race. Biblically I believe it, that we are all descendents from Adam and Eve, but whilst yes, we are all connected there is still a wide range of variety and diversity amongst us. These are not to be feared but instead some of these differences should be celebrated, understood, respected and all encountered with integrity.
Sadly this is so often not the case. My personal view on why it’s like this is because as humans I feel we have a bias. First and foremost a bias towards self, then accepting or accommodating similar and finally rejecting or having prejudices against different and other. I believe this is human nature and to go into it further would be a whole other post and would require more pages. But the fact is as individuals or a collective group of people (tribe, nation or “race”), there are differences, whether those differences are in personality, culture, “race” or within faith groups. They are there and it’s so important that rather than reacting negatively to those differences or ignoring those differences that we know how to navigate them with respect, humility and love. I believe that the work The Feast is doing is very much looking to do this.
My prayer and hope is that the work The Feast is doing will help build bridges and not walls, that we will help young people to love their neighbours and that the work we do is honouring to God.
This is my dream and is something that I would be proud of being part of.