How We Impact Others By Kevin Hofmann Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou On the corner of Greenfield and Outer Drive on Detroit’s Northwest side there sits a small school, now called Redford Academy, I think. When I was growing up It was called, Greenfield Peace Lutheran School. I went there from third to eighth grade. The student body was no more than 400 students, and I felt safe inside those walls. Each grade level had only one class, so I went to school with the same students for six years; rarely did anyone leave, and rarely did we get new classmates. I learned with the same group of about 30 kids for those six years. Unfortunately, we didn’t all feel safe – I hate to admit. The student body was about 90-95% Black. In my class, we had one white student, Jennifer. We treated her horribly. As insecure children, we justified it by saying, “At least they’re not picking on me.” We picked on her because she was different. She was a very creative student who liked to make things out of torn tissues and paper. She would often pour Elmer’s glue on her hand, and when it dried she would peel it off and create little animals and figures. To most of us, it looked like a mess, but to her it was art, something she had created. We bullied her. Often one student would take what she made and destroy it just to see her scream and cry. I can’t recall a day she didn’t cry. Although I never directly participated in this torture, I never said anything to stop it. I never spoke up for her or did anything to protect her. My fear was if I did, the torture would be directed toward me. Selfishly I stayed quiet. About 10 years ago I was flipping through Facebook and found Jennifer. She was interacting with several of our classmates, and she was pleasant, kind, and loving. I remembered the daily hell we put her through and I felt horrible! I was now an adult with children who were the target of some bullying and I had wished someone would have spoken up for them. I saw Jennifer and I was convicted. This idea chased me around for a few days. I tried ducking around corners, hiding in my mind, and nothing worked. My mind kept bringing me back to that small Lutheran school where we weren’t very Christ-like at times. Finally, I stopped and let those thoughts hit me square between the eyes. All along I knew what I needed to do. I was just hoping to outrun what I knew I was required to do. I sent a private message to Jennifer. I apologized for the group and for the way we treated her. I was close, but more was required. I apologized for staying quiet. I apologized for not protecting her. I finished the message and hit send and I waited and waited. I went back several times to check the message thread, and still no response. About a day later, Jennifer responded. She had forgiven me and held no bad feelings toward me or any of our classmates. She considered herself part of our small family even through we didn’t treat her that way. I was relieved and humbled. Part of me wonders why it took me 30 years to see what I did to Jennifer. I think because as a child you focus on yourself… a lot. I was probably more focused on myself than most because I was so self-conscious. I was so afraid of one of my Black classmates making fun of me because I was adopted. I was so afraid they would accuse me of not being truly Black because I was being raised by a white family. I lacked the desire and ability to see the world from Jennifer’s point of view. As an adult, I see it right away because I have developed the ability to empathize with others. My job at Adrian Dominican Sisters may be karma. I am focused on and committed to helping us all have more empathy for others. I constantly ask myself questions like, “How might an Evangelical Christian see this,” or “How might a white woman hear what I just said?” I don’t always remember to do it, but when I do the answer is usually clear. Working to create a better sense of belonging for everyone commands us to ALWAYS ask those questions. “How might a female co-worker feel about that last comment?” “How might a Black Sister feel about the joke?” It is not about us. It is about how we impact others. I wish I was aware of that at Greenfield Peace Lutheran School.