Leading with Love
Last weekend, I gathered with lay faith members of communities across Rochester with whom I have gathered monthly for a year. It was our final class. We were celebrating our accomplishments together as a community that cares about mental health, in this intentional learning community of Renewing of the Mind’s (RoM). The purpose of RoM is to help prepare oneself and one another to be agents of change in directing - and also confronting - resources and stigma related to mental health in faith’s forms. We do so with a focus on faith communities of color. In addition to learning about mental health topics each session, we focus in this class on how to resolve contradictions often present in ourselves and any community that hinder our purpose to aid healing and recovery of mental health challenges faced among one:five children and adults. RoM is, for me, a long-time community partnership in health education that both I and Earl Greene, MA, CAMS-1/Fellow, ACT Certified Trainer and Director of Family Engagement and Equity, have facilitated for many years – that we have continued since our engagements commenced here at Children’s Institute.
Our “graduation” class topic was “Leading with love: Creating safe environments for all through sexual and gender orientation inclusion in faith communities.” We began the class with this focused intention or purpose for where we sought to gain deeper insight to guide our action as promoters of mental wellbeing. We discussed how we can set our hearts, minds, and actions when one set of teachings contradicts the integrity of what another knows as their identity. We reflected on two encouragements, “I’m not done with me” and “You’re not alone,” that acknowledge our own personal need for growth where we confront difference alongside the importance of a shared human experiences in expressions of empathy and agape love. These mantras foster the “renewing of the mind” to help us to center, better listen, and pay attention to supporting young persons with LGBTQI sexual identities or transgender, nonbinary gender identities.
As we gathered – we considered national and local events of the past several weeks that challenge what makes us whole and mentally well – our sense of safety and community. We do so also at Children’s Institute. We acknowledge the epidemic of gun violence in our community taking the lives of so many in Rochester. We mourn last week’s killing in the line of duty of officer Anthony Mazurkiewicz, and the wounding of his partner, Sino Seng, along with the injury of a 15-year-old girl in a neighboring home. As a community, our grief continues as calling hours gather mourners together in the wake of his killing. The end of June also led to the upturning of the Roe v. Wade abortion protections that many girls and families had known as a shelter in a storm.
These events bring many among us fear, grief, worry, and trauma. And, as the story of the three little pigs reminds us, – we need a steady house to feel protection from chaos and fear when the wolf inevitably comes to one’s door. That children’s tale importantly tells a story of inequity – each pig doesn’t have the same house to begin with, so each experiences the wolf’s arrival differently in terms of their survival and trauma it carried. And so, as our country confronts the loss of the Roe v. Wade protections, as we mourn the rampant gun violence stealing the life and hope of our Rochester community residents and law enforcement, we must provide the brick houses of policy and practice that provide the foundation of protection and renewing of the mind. And so, we take stock of our policies at Children’s Institute. Our Board affirmed, this June, a new reproductive health decision-making policy against discrimination. We revisit long-standing teaching resources produced at Children’s Institute that promote socioemotional wellbeing when families and communities confront interpersonal conflict and violence such as ACT for children. We are reaching out to revivify prior partnerships focused on justice- and court-involved individuals to again seek greater impact in violence prevention efforts, locally.
We began the RoM classes this past year with reflections from “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse,” a children’s book by Charlie Mackesy that follows a boy on a physical journey with these animal friends. As they wade through high waters, the boy mounts the horse who says, “Everyone is a bit scared,” – “but we are less scared together.” Or they gaze towards the horizon wondering what is next the boy says, “Sometimes I feel lost.” “Me too,” said the mole, “but we love you, and love brings you home.” Or as the boy pauses in grief, the horse warmly touches his head and reminds him that, “Tears fall for a reason, and they are your strength not weakness.” As shown in this written art, in our community life, and in our daily work through Children’s Institute, we continue to affirm the socioemotional health and developmental factors among children and the adults that are the foundation for peace, wellbeing, and protection from harm due to violence and differences in values.
–Ann Marie White, Ed.D.