Key Points: Alice Ganier Rolli is a native Nashvillian. Her children are loved at schools led by Sister Marie Blanchette and Rabba Daniella Pressner.
“What can be taught, when, how, and by whom – this sorting of our children – this draws the judgment of all.”
While we were sleeping it was morning in Berlin, and on Sept. 25, Kenyan long distance runner Eliud Kipchoge bested his own marathon record, clocking 2:01:09.
In Nashville, we woke to the familiar juggling of weekends and a race of our own, the Nashville Diocese Athletic Council (DAC) championship cross country meet.
Our boys, first and fifth graders, attend different schools and in a moment of parental pragmatism, I signed them both up to run.
Stretched across the Overbrook field were teams from many of Nashville’s Catholic schools: St. Henry, St. Bernard, St. Ann, St. Edward and more. We joined the line and a boy from St. Rose looked over at the blue shirts beside him and asked one of our boys, wearing his yarmulke, tzitzit, and long pants, “What saint are you?”
His small eyes looked to me for an answer. And so I responded for him, “We are from the Akiva School. A Jewish school.”
A history lesson about Nashville’s own St. Katharine Drexel
Akiva: Wise. Protector. Sage. Teacher. Perhaps in the language of the questioner, yes, a saint. K’doshim Akiva.
On your mark. Get set. Go. The blaring horn. They were off.Despite our speed this new century has not extinguished our most ancient of desires to label all of the humans. By, or perhaps because of, our labels we find our way to life’s many starting lines. Though it is in how we label our schools where everyone has an opinion. What can be taught, when, how, and by whom – this sorting of our children – this draws the judgment of all.
Nashville’s history holds a lesson for our present champions of educational equity – those agitators who fight for a space at the starting line for more kids.
In the 1930s Pennsylvania heiress Katharine Drexel purchased a stately home in downtown Nashville. When the neighbors learned her purpose – to house a school to educate black children – they banded together to attempt to buy it back.
Mercifully, they could not and her conviction led her to build many schools for the children our systems forgot. Her life’s determination earned her sainthood. When she was canonized, the
The Vatican cited her “perspective on the unity of all peoples; courage and initiative in addressing social inequality among minorities; her efforts to achieve quality education for all.”Drexel led legions of doubters to experience the truth that talent is everywhere, even when opportunity is not.
There is no greater expression of love than to love – and to teach – other people’s children. Children who do not look the same, who do not speak the same language, whose families practice different faith traditions.
By including Akiva and other non-Catholic schools, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and the DAC honor St. Katharine Drexel’s teaching. Their lesson inspires a path for policy makers, education practitioners and parents – secular or sainted – to create more opportunities to help kids discover their strengths.
Historians may write that the Berlin race was the one to remember. But for me, it was this race. This chance to watch the happy chaos of 400 tiny legs burst forward together. To celebrate what is, and what is possible, when we invite others to our fields and to our tables.
There was no Ye on the field that day.
Alice Ganier Rolli is a native Nashvillian. Her children are loved at schools led by Sister Marie Blanchette and Rabba Daniella Pressner. In 2014 she managed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s campaign for office and was cited by the National Journal as the only woman in the country running the campaign of a sitting GOP Senator.