Embracing Diversity - Mr Potts

I’m going to talk to you today about diversity as it’s one of the many things that I think makes our school really special. I grew up about an hour down the motorway from here but the school where I went to couldn’t have been more different to Fulneck. Although it was a bigger school than Fulneck, all of the students there lived within a short walk of the school, inside the same estates and communities; all of the students came from similar backgrounds and their parents did the same kind of jobs; and – other than a handful of exceptions – everyone there was from the same cultural background. So it wasn’t really until I left my hometown and went to university that I could fully appreciate that not everybody looks like me, not everybody speaks the same language as me and – more importantly - chips, steak pudding and gravy isn’t the most exotic meal available at the local takeaway!

The fantastic thing about our school though is that you all get the benefit of that diversity right now. I did a very rough estimate and I worked out that, amongst the students and staff here, we have well over 20 nationalities represented - just in this room!

Scanning the hall right now I can see Claudia from Spain, Dr Neuberg from France, Zerda and Alexandra from Germany, Miss Wold from Norway and Polina from Russia. I can see Genevieve from South Africa, Keith from Zimbabwe, Oba from Nigeria, Yousef from the UAE, Ali from Iraq, Mrs Stewart from Lebanon and Areeb from Bangladesh. We have Joao from Brazil, Frank from China, Jamie from Taiwan, Joey from Hong Kong and, not forgetting, Johnny from Yorkshire.

And it goes much deeper than that. My own ancestors originally came across the Irish Sea over 100 years ago but, looking around at my colleagues sitting on the benches, I know that Mrs Akhtar’s family roots are in Pakistan, Miss Ghosh’s parents came to the UK from India, Ms James can trace her heritage to Jamaica and Poland. Miss Zurakowski’s roots are in Poland too but she was raised in New Zealand and she’s a British passport holder.

You’re probably wondering why any of this matters and here’s what I love about the community we’ve built here at Fulneck: none of it does matter. We can sit in a room like this with friends and colleagues from around the world and we can treat each other with kindness and respect. Some of us can go home and speak to our families in different languages but whilst we’re here we can share the same simple goals: to be the best we can be and to build a community that we can be proud of.
Those four simple words that you often hear us repeating – Work Hard, Be Kind – are universal, no matter where in the world you happen to come from.
So if we’ve already built a community where we can treat each other with respect and kindness, why am I speaking to you about this in our assembly? Well, it’s because – unfortunately - the rest of the world hasn’t quite caught up with Fulneck yet.

In our own country in the past few years, the Brexit debate has toxified our politics and forced people to choose opposing sides – Brexiteers vs Remainers – as if we were at war, rather than simply debating changes to our constitutional and trading laws. On the back of that we’ve seen intolerance rise, with people who’ve built their lives in our country suddenly having to question whether this is truly their home. We’ve had the Windrush Scandal, where people who came here from the Caribbean as children - and even helped rebuild this country after World War II - have had their right to remain here threatened and their lives ruined. We’ve seen the unwelcome return of racist chanting in football grounds, vicious abuse on social media and an upsurge of violent extremism. And it’s worse elsewhere.

All around the world today we see examples of people being persecuted because of the colour of their skin, their religion, their political principals, their sexuality, their gender or even because of disability. It seems that, as a species, we’re desperate to separate ourselves into tribes and seek out reasons to divide one another rather than focus on the things that bind us together. And, as we sit in this church, we have to ask ourselves: if God really is looking down on us right now, what must he think about the way we treat our fellow human beings?

Almost four years ago now, that hatred, mistrust and division led to the murder of the local MP, Jo Cox, in an act of Far Right terrorism. For some of you here today, Jo Cox would’ve been your local MP but more importantly she was a human being – a mother, a wife, a daughter -  gunned down at the age of 41 whilst she was trying to serve the people of her community.
Before she died, Jo Cox left behind some memorable quotes and I’m going to share one of them with you now:
"Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan. But, while we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us."

Sadly, since Jo Cox’s death, you only have to turn on the news to realise that her message of hope hasn’t quite caught on yet. All around the world we’re still choosing to separate ourselves into tribes, still choosing to focus on those things that divide us, still choosing to hate, still choosing to kill.
But there’s one thing that still gives me hope and it’s right under this roof. Sitting in front of me I see students, friends and colleagues from all around the world. I see Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews and I see others who don’t choose to identify with any religion. I see gay people, straight people and people who don’t need any sort of label. I see athletes, academics and others whose biggest achievement is being kind and brightening up the lives of others.

There’s so much difference and so much diversity under this roof but there’s one important thing that binds us all together: we are all Fulneck.

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