2. Belonging is so much more than inclusion. Inclusion is a one-way street and usually relies on the “includer(s)” welcoming someone into their world. Belonging, however, is a two-way street and depends on both the individual(s) and the community. On Aug. 15, the girls’ and boys’ varsity soccer teams headed to Barcelona, Spain, for a nine-day preseason trip. Twenty-five girls and 16 boys hit the international scene to play a little fútbol, tour the historic city of Barcelona and hopefully sneak in time for the beach. Sounds like a dream, right?
I have yet to mention that eight of these players are new to Westminster, five of which are 14 years old or younger, and two of them have never left the country … talk about vulnerability (see #1 above). I could have not asked for a better group of returning players to welcome the new players with open arms. However, it is human nature to spend time with people who you already know and who are most like you. While the older girls had certainly established a welcoming, inclusive environment, everyone seemed to be taking the path of least resistance. During our first meeting on the trip, we challenged the girls to get outside their comfort zone and to spend time with people they did not know yet. This took tremendous courage and intention on both the part of the new and returning girls. Night after night, I loved seeing the texts and photos with the most random mix of girls. These at-first-uncomfortable moments turned friendships will be the building blocks of a successful season. They will be the difference between players feeling like they truly belong versus just simply being included.
3. True belonging relies on interdependence. Now let’s get to a few topics we can all relate to from the summer — the Netflix series “Stranger Things” and last summer’s all-school read “Where the Crawdads Sing.” In “Stranger Things,” season four, episode three, there is a scene that shows the main character El (Eleven) upset after realizing more and more that she doesn’t belong at her new school. Little do her classmates know she has incredible superpowers that could save their lives and change the world, but no one is willing to take the time to get to know her (see No. 2 above). Her classmates have no idea that they desperately need each other in order to survive.
I am sure Kya, the main character in “Where the Crawdads Sing” can relate to El. Kya is forced to fend for herself in the marsh after her family members abandon her one by one. She learns to survive on her own, but deep down, Kya yearns to be loved and to belong to the greater community of Barkley Cove. Much like El, the residents of Barkley Cove have no idea how much Kya has to offer because no one has taken the time to get to know her. They’ve created a false narrative about her life and ostracized her for being different. When Kya goes on trial for murder, her lawyer says in his closing argument, “We labeled and rejected her because we thought she was different. But, ladies and gentlemen, did we exclude Miss Clark because she was different, or was she different because we excluded her?” Both El and Kya have so much to offer to their communities, but no one has made the effort to discover these gifts. Communities can only thrive when all members can offer their true selves, and people can only do so if they feel like they belong. Much of our work as educators is centered around helping our students discover and shape their identities, helping them to discover their superpowers. This is where we begin. Only then can our students be vulnerable and offer their true selves to the community. Only then can they get outside their comfort zones to get to know people who are different from them. Only then can we belong. Aristotle once said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” What this great philosopher failed to mention is that the whole is only greater because of each individual part. The Westminster community can only be whole when every member truly belongs.