Having “an agenda” is the accusation Lynn Campbell, a writer to Wednesday’s Forum, makes of educator Jennifer McCarthy, a teacher who in 2015 received the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Science and Mathematics Teachers at Jay M. Robinson High School and was a district finalist for the N.C. Teacher of the Year Award.
“Having an agenda” is often hurled at those who live with the expectation that God can always do a new thing. I am Jennifer McCarthy’s pastor. Transgender student Kaleb Lyda has worshiped with us. Both are persons of exceptional ability. McCarthy’s sole “agenda” is helping all the students she encounters become the best expression of the persons God created them to be.
Kaleb is living into that reality with the help of teachers like Jennifer McCarthy, his parents, a therapist and supportive organizations like Time Out Youth. Why was the teacher singled out? For the same reasons the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board recently sat through an hour of protests and rants based on intentionally spread falsehoods about the school’s anti-bullying policy. Public schools are key building blocks for society’s values. When equal rights for all are held up and minority voices are protected, heard and valued, power begins to shift.
That a transgender student is now in a place of influence as a Morehead Scholar is a threat to many. It is demeaning to both the teacher and this brilliant young man to suggest that he was led astray by a single educator. Self-discovery is the work of all adolescents. Responsible educators know that students can only learn in a safe environment. Those children and students (straight, gay and questioning) who are blessed with parents, teachers and pastors who welcome their questions about God, life’s meaning and purpose, and their place in this world are the students who will live their best life.
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Advocacy is the work of creating space for justice and equality. Being an advocate for students in their life journey begins with creating a safe space for conversation and then listening to the student articulate joys and sorrows, victories and struggles. Such listening is inspiring. Inspired teachers, inspired students change lives. As a stakeholder in the public school system I want more teachers like Jennifer McCarthy – folks willing to look out for the last, the least and the little ones – while helping them find new life.
Rev. Dr. Allison is the pastor at Holy Covenant United Church of Christ.