Mark Bergel ('16) Shares his "Expanding the Table" Experience

February 2, 2018

This spring, Leadership Greater Washington is partnering with WRAG and A Wider Circle to build a regional, cross-sector cohort of philanthropic, nonprofit, and business leaders who understand racism and are committed to working for racial justice. Together, we are working to Expand the Table for Racial Equity. Our goal is to capture of participants as the series continues. For the first session titled "Building a Community", we asked Marg Bergel ('16), Founder & Executive Director of A Wider Circle to share his participant perspective. Read Mark's featured post, below: 

“When was the first time you had a teacher of a different race?”

That was one of the questions posed by the facilitator during the first session of Expanding the Table for Racial Equity, the Thought Leadership Series being put on by Leadership Greater Washington and the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers.

Well, I was in school from age 5 to 35, so I must have had several teachers of different races, I thought.

Elementary school… nope. Not one. How about a staff person of a different race? Nope. Not one African-American teacher, Hispanic teacher, or teacher of any race other than White to help shape my early understanding of life.

Strange, I thought, as I moved onto memories of my junior high school years. Again, not an Asian teacher, not a Hispanic teacher, not a Native American teacher, not one African-American teacher - no other races represented in the teaching ranks of Shaker Junior High School in the mid 1970s. At least, not in any of my classes.

On to Shaker High School, and even when I moved from that suburban high school near Albany, New York, to a suburb of Chicago, not one. Not one teacher in my most formative years was of a different race than mine.

On to college. At Northwestern University, surely I must have had an African-American professor or someone of another race teaching me.

Nope. Not one. Not even in my Race, Diversity, & Class class!

Among the biggest losers in this were me and everyone else who did not get a lesson plan based on real diversity or by the experience of racism or classism.

Stunned by the memory of not one teacher of another race all the way through college, I went to the memories of my Masters program, and there I finally… wait, nope. Not one. In fact, there was only one student of another color in my Masters class at American University.

To the doctoral years, 1990 – 1996, and surely I had a professor who was African-American, Hispanic, or some other race! It was sociology, after all, where we learned all about justice, equality, race, class, social structures… there had to be a few professors of another race.

Not one.

Today, I imagine every one of those institutions has teachers of different races. I hope so. I hope it would be difficult for anyone now to have 30 years of formal schooling without being taught by someone of a different race.

The first of this six-session series was filled with other questions and conversations that highlighted the different worlds we occupy in this same space.

We heard from individuals of many races who shared the impact that racism has on their lives - not had, has.

For me, as the leader of A Wider Circle, the decision to serve as one of the sponsors of this series was an easy one. Racism has had as much to do with the growth and allowance of poverty as any other factor. In fact, racism and classism combine to propel poverty.

How else can we explain how we allow people to live in such dangerous conditions day after day, night after night? When a child is shot in Bethesda, the whole town almost stops - for days - until we understand and solve what must have led to it. When a child is shot in Anacostia, we do not even take notice. We almost live each day with the expectation that it will happen, and that is deeply connected to racism.

On a personal level, I signed up for this series to understand my own racist thoughts and tendencies, whatever they may be, aimed at whatever race or races for which I feel them. I have lived my entire adult life trying to look beyond color, beyond religion, and focus in on our sameness. But I know I fail, and I know I judge – and pre-judge.

Still, I cling to the knowledge that we are deeply interconnected, much more alike than different. We all know that there is variation among individual human beings, from size and shape to religion and skin color. But the DNA of all human beings living today is 99.9% alike. More so, we breathe the same, bleed the same, feel sadness the same and find joy in the same ways. We are deeply interconnected, yet we seem to live in that .1% difference.

I believe this series will cast a light on why and how we can change that – and why we must do it now.

Mark Bergel ('16) Shares his "Expanding the Table" Experience