Inherent Worth and Preciousness (with Handshakes!)

This is my favorite news story from last week, and I’ve been thinking of it ever since. When these 5th grade students from Charlotte, N.C. enter the classroom each day, Barry White Jr., their teacher, does an individualized handshake with each one of them.

All the students crafted their own signature moves with Mr. White, and each day, they get to put them into action.

I love this story because it is a beautiful display of worth and belonging — something these students deserve to know and internalize each and every day. We all have the capacity to celebrate worth in one another and mirror that inherent worth to each other in our relationships.

When I look at the large, systemic problems in our communities and in our world, many are rooted in a sinister and traumatic, internalized belief that is there is a hierarchy of worth — that some lives are simply worth more than other lives. This is a horrific, internalized lie.

Sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, we build and prop up systems based on these hierarchies — often rooted in race, class, national origin, gender, sexuality, and religion — and the effects cost human lives and justice across entire societies. The belief builds the system, and the system works to confirm the belief, even as it also works to benefit those at the “top” of the hierarchy.

But this 5th grade teacher is doing something different. He is mirroring inherent worth, a deep-seated preciousness that can’t be lost. And these kids are learning to internalize it while they have a lot of fun right at the beginning of their day.

It’s a reminder that these systems need to be dismantled in large-scale work, but the “small” work is never insignificant. Seeds are planted in the holy, day-to-day expressions of looking each other in the eyes — our children, our friends, people we’ve never met — and conveying, “You matter.”

The large-scale work always begins with that.

Renee Roederer

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