Sunday, October 23, 2022

Guest Speakers: An Exercise in Hospitality +

Dear Fellow Teachers and Coaches,

I want to extend a work of encouragement and a friendly reminder here: invite guest speakers, to talk in your classroom and/or with your team

This message it not new. It will require some effort on your part, but anyone in education is no stranger to hard work. While it is always prudent to vet your speaker, when you find a good one—keep them close and tell other teachers and coaches about them. Their presence, wisdom, experience and expertise break up the grind. Their stories, connections and insights leaven the load. I was reminded of this when three men affiliated with the San Francisco Police Department came to speak at St. Ignatius College Prep on Tuesday, October 18, 2022.

While the intended audience was the Criminal Justice class, I found Sports and Spirituality connections from each speaker. Cross-curricular connections make listening and learning more meaningful and fun. They are worth celebrating (which is where the realm athletics CAN serve as the "8th period of the day."). 

I ran into Greg Suhr '76, former Chief of Police at the gym before school. After I critiqued his form on on the rowing machine (the erg) he told me that he would be on campus to speak to seniors. He noted that the students prepared a long list of questions for the panel. I learned a lot from what the students asked and opined. 

One question was about the image society has of the police. Greg explained that when he was as student at SI, he had a positive image of law enforcement because so many of his coaches were cops. He added, "building personal relationships with young people, especially through sports is essential to what we do. I'm going to let J.J. speak to that, as it's part of his story."

Officer Jason Johnson grew up in the Bayview neighborhood and admitted, "I was one of those kids who did not trust the police whatsoever. So I get it." He recalled a turning point for him personally and professionally at the Boys and Girls club. He said "I was standing inside the gym in my uniform; the kids were looking at me with suspicion and making comments like the ones I used to make. One of the basketballs rolled over to where I was standing and I started dribbling. I then took it to the hoop and dunked it. All of a sudden, all the kids wanted to know how they too could dunk." A relationship was born.

That recollection led to my favorite story of the day: It's worth watching (see above) and learning more about here.

Office Peter Walsh '87 was proud to share with the Wildcats that he has been with SFPD for 31 years. A fellow parishioners at St. Vincent de Paul, I have to admit I enjoy going to church that much more when I know people in the pews. 

Officer Walsh addressed a number of questions about tasers—an acronym for  Tom A. Swift Electric Rifle. (This was fascinating to me because I recently re-read a post from 2010 about Philly police using a taser on a fan who stormed the field. Spellcheck kept running the word taser as misspelled because it recognizes the word as an acronym!). The San Francisco Board of City Supervisors held back police funding of these handheld devices, citing the need for a more comprehensive understanding of their costs. 

He made a distinction about "causation" and "contributing to."  Studies found that tasers—which incapacitate a person by transmitting a high-volt electric shock, do not cause death but have been a contributing factor—along with issues of mental health, drug usage, etc to death. I was surprised by how many questions the students had about this topic!

The crew also answered questions about tips—what qualifies as a legitimate tip or not. This was timely as the serial killer in Stockton had been caught in part to some tips to the police. They spoke about de-escalation, harm reduction (as a tactic in working with drug users, not sellers), bias, body cameras and more. Suhr said their biggest challenge is also their greatest need: good men and women to serve in the department and improving their image. I looked around the room and thought a number of these students would excel in law enforcement. 

This class was made better because of conversations like this one. It only happens because of an invitation and a willingness to give of ourselves to one another. And that's what true hospitality is. Parker Palmer writes "hospitality is not an end of itself. It is offered for the sake of what it can allow, permit, encourage, and yield.” 

Welcoming guest speakers into our classrooms, to address a student body and meet with our teams is but a starting point for this biblical virtue. 

“Hospitality, Henri Nouwen writes, “means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” Amen.

Let’s welcome guests into our communities. This is a wonderful means for our students to learn more about themselves and one another. 

Thank you, Danielle, Greg, JJ and Pete: your knowledge, the breadth of your experiences, humor, humility and professionalism made for a riveting class period. I am a better teacher and citizen because of your time! AMDG

A special note of thanks to Daniel McMahon of DeMatha HS, Hyattsville, MD for the inspiration to write about hospitality.

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