Voices of Wheaton Academy
Voices of Wheaton Academy on Race and Justice:
Weldon Williams and Christian Rivera
To understand an experience that we haven’t all shared takes grace. It takes empathy. And most importantly, it takes listening.
Wheaton Academy was founded in 1853 by abolitionists who wanted to start a school that would train their kids to “fight the evils of society,” specifically slavery. Since its founding nearly 167 years ago, the Academy, along with American culture, has had its struggles with both conscious and unconscious racial bias. We acknowledge that the Wheaton Academy experience for students of color has not always been the same experience that it has been for white students. However, as we strive to become a Kingdom Community, one of the most important ways we can move forward is to listen to the many voices of those in our community.
These are their voices. These are their words… and we are listening.
Weldon Williams is the parent of Evan Williams ’15 and current trustee on the Wheaton Academy Board. For the last 6 years Weldon has worked as Senior Director for Quality Assurance at HAVI and has pastored Triumph Community Church from 2000-2019. Weldon earned his BSE in biomedical engineering from Duke University and his M.Div. at Westminster Theological Seminary.
Christian Rivera joined our World Languages Faculty as a Spanish teacher in 2016. Christian came to the U.S. from Peru and has experienced both the blessings and challenges of being an immigrant in our community. He enjoys helping Wheaton Academy students understand how to connect with and share Christ’s love with their immigrant neighbors, or anyone from a different cultural/economic/language background.
Explain how your relationship with Wheaton Academy began and what has prompted you to serve on the Board/as a teacher/as a volunteer.
Weldon Williams: As my sons went through our local public school district, I found that every year we had to go to the school to have conferences with the teachers regarding their handling of them and what we saw as disparaging treatment. In one instance my middle son was elected to the national honor society at the school. There were forms that needed to be signed that he forgot to give us. As a result, he was told that he “lacked the leadership” to be in the group. This was despite the fact that he was chosen captain of the basketball team and had established the Poets Society at the school. We concluded we needed an alternative for our youngest son. Since making that choice, we have found Wheaton Academy to be not only God-fearing and Christ centric (which aligns with our family’s values) but also compassionate and student friendly. Wheaton Academy has made a tremendous difference in our youngest child’s life. After two months when he made the profound statement, “At (my old school) none of the teachers liked me; at Wheaton Academy all of the teachers like me. Go figure”, we knew we made the right choice. Because of the impact, I am willing to invest in all that Wheaton Academy is about.
Christian Rivera: My relationship with Wheaton Academy started when I started working for Wheaton Bible Church 8 year ago. At that time, I was an after-school teacher for the Puente del Niño program at Wegner Elementary School. I remember there were many volunteers from Wheaton Academy serving as tutors after school. I enjoyed working with the Wheaton Academy students and when the opportunity came up to be able to teach my language and culture to them I was really excited.
How do you feel Wheaton Academy has made progress in striving to be a Kingdom Community over the last few years and how can we continue to grow in this area?
Williams: I believe that the Kingdom Community vision for Wheaton Academy has slowly made advances towards being realized. The faculty and staff’s genuine love for Christ and others is exemplified in how they each pour their lives into all children, regardless of color, and seek to have the tough discussions regarding the prevailing issues in society. There is a genuine, heartfelt commitment to see God’s Kingdom manifested in their midst. The challenge before WA is to understand how the prevailing norms of society may themselves continue to perpetuate systemic bias and disenfranchisement. The greatest challenge of a people is to recognize that they have blind spots and to seek to uncover them.
Rivera: I am always encouraged to see new students and their families becoming part of this community. I have seen the minority group’s students increasing in number; our international program does a fantastic job recruiting students from various countries. In addition, I know that Wheaton Academy recruits students from different socioeconomic backgrounds by providing more financial aid opportunities than in the past. I believe we are heading in the right direction to make the school more diverse and represent the Kingdom of God. In addition, I have appreciated the Kingdom Community training sessions where we as a staff have had to grapple over very difficult issues and ask the big questions regarding equity for all types of students. This has forced us to even ask what is the purpose of Wheaton Academy and take the risk of asking if where we are is where we should be if we want to truly be a Kingdom Community. It might change how resources are used to include new programs and faculty to include a wider variety of students to better reflect the Kingdom God.
Wheaton Academy was founded by abolitionist parents who were seeking to provide a biblical worldview for their kids and train them to “fight the evils of society at that time,” predominantly slavery. What can Wheaton Academy do to continue the fight against today’s “evils of society,” such as racism and bigotry?
Williams: First, Wheaton Academy must continue to acknowledge that racial and unconscious bias still exist in our society and at Wheaton Academy. We have not always done a good enough job promoting the ideals of diversity and inclusion. There needs to be a heartfelt desire to know and understand the plight of people of color. Too often WA defers to individuals who have a similar point of view to find comfort in the status quo. Know that the status quo is not Kingdom Community. Still today, our brothers and sisters of color do not always feel that they can truly express themselves within Wheaton Academy. They must live a double life, one that they are taught to live in order to make it in a White world. Kingdom Community means I can be me, be accepted for being me, and can grow together with you in our relationship with one another and Christ.
Rivera: I would say by empowering minority students, families and staff or representatives of these groups in order to say “your voice matters.” To make a community where we all take a posture of humility and learning from all groups of people all year round, not just try to recognize a particular group of people when the calendar or nation says its “Black History Month” or “Hispanic Heritage Month” or “Chinese New Year”. Giving leadership roles to those who represent a different perspective and not be anxious when their leadership style may not look or feel the same as the status quo at Wheaton Academy.
How do you see the murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent national protests, affecting the Wheaton Academy community?
Williams: Unfortunately, I see far too much denial from our community that there is a problem. The fact that there is sometimes a vitriol response to the slogan “Black Lives Matter” says that we may not understand what is being said. The response of “All Lives Matter” in counter-protest means that some do not comprehend the contrasting difference between how African Americans perceive how the greater society views their lives. It’s my hope to see the Wheaton Academy community, its Board, and families unite to decry the subtle brokenness of our society that disenfranchises a people group and violates their inalienable rights.
Rivera: It should raise awareness of the sensitivity of the issue of equity that exists for those who are not a part of the majority group. Many feel like “everything is fine… we are no longer living in the days of civil rights so all is fine.” Unfortunately, many minority groups still carry the heaviness, sometimes even bitterness and frustration, of the generational injustices and this can be triggered by insensitivity to the issues or by being blind to the fact that injustice does still exist. This event with George Floyd can be used for good by propelling Wheaton Academy to educate students that what may not be an issue in their eyes may be a deep-rooted issue that affects some students daily. Helping the Wheaton Academy community understand this is key in promoting unity and peace for future generations of students. It is important for it not to become a soap box for people’s political opinions and views, but instead as a an opportunity to create a sensitivity and humility and restoration in the community.
Would you share your heart’s prayer for the Academy?
Williams: It is my deepest prayer that the Academy would continue to put Christ first and pursue knowing Him and His will for the lives of all associated with this institution. It is my prayer that God would enable each person associated with the Academy to see life through the lens of their brother or sister, and have a heart tender and receptive to the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is my deepest prayer that the Academy would become a safe place for all who seek to find solace in the shadow of our Savior, and that through the Academy, individuals, regardless of their identity, might find Christ’s love and forgiveness.
Rivera: I pray that, in times like this, we can embrace the belief that you, God, are with us. You are working in us and through us, and that you are certain in our lives in the midst of all what’s happening right now. I pray that you teach us how to embrace the uncertainties trusting that you are Sovereign and in control. Help us to leave and trust everything to you knowing that you are gloriously, graciously working in our midst. May we remain faithful to you. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.
We are thankful for the perspectives from our Wheaton Academy community. We honor these voices for their honesty and willingness to share so openly. And as we continue striving to be a Kingdom Community, we will continue to listen.