One favorite memory from childhood is of Thanksgiving feasts at my grandmother’s. Her little house fragrant with the smells of homemade pie and roasting turkey. Her wide table crowded with generations of aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings. My grandmother proudly presenting bowl after bowl of steaming food, then taking her place at the head of the table and bowing her head for grace.
When I look back at my 12 years leading ThreeSixty Journalism, a similar picture comes to mind. Not culinary feasts, mind you. We consume far more Davanni’s and Chipotle than haute cuisine.
It’s been a banquet nonetheless. In a society that divides people so insistently—by age, neighborhood, income, skin color, IQ, nationality, religion—ThreeSixty has worked hard to make space for everyone at the table, to honor all perspectives and to support excellence.
Year after year, we’ve pushed teens to get out of their heads and into the world to ask questions, check facts, test assumptions and seek alternate points of view.
I always smile when a new writer declares, “This is harder than school.” I smile again when they graduate and tell us what they learned from ThreeSixty Journalism: To write clearly, think critically and be more curious about the world.
I hope they also learn that no one is immune from making assumptions and judging too quickly, especially when it comes to people who are different from us.
On MLK Day back in January, more than 20 ThreeSixty writers and their friends came to our office at St. Thomas to document microaggressions— words or actions that slighted them in some way based on race or ethnicity. Each student wrote their microaggression on a whiteboard and recorded a video explaining what they’d written.
The Chinese girl is a brainiac. The black guy is a gangster. The white girl is a rich snob. The Hispanic teen is illegal. The guy in the turban is a terrorist. The Muslim girl is forced to wear the hijab.
Each had been stung by others’ assumptions. But something more important happened that day. As they watched one another detail the slights they’d suffered, some recognized that they make unfair assumptions of their own. A few saw how they let others’ stereotypes—that high-achieving black kids are “acting white,” for example—limit them.
In a few weeks. I’ll retire from ThreeSixty Journalism. I leave with deep gratitude for the chance to do this work and eagerness to discover how to use the new freedom that retirement allows. I’ll take my cues from comments that Nannerl Keohane, a former college president, made to college freshman a few years back.
Her advice is worth sharing: Stretch yourself. Take some risks. Don’t limit yourself to the comfortable, the familiar, to your private ambitions, to people like you.
“You must see it as part of your self-interest and your moral duty to play your part in society, to give something of yourself away to others who are in need, to help sustain the common structures that make up our public life,” Keohane said. “If you fail to do this, you will become a shrunken and diminished self.”
On holidays, I pull out the glass bowl my grandmother used to serve cranberry sauce. In the spirit of my grandmother, I recommend this: Spread your table with good food and a lively mix of guests. Ask good questions. Listen closely to their answers. And be prepared to be surprised.