The Heart of Belonging

March 3, 2023

An open letter from Becraft Scholars Program Director Alana Bell:

When I began my role as the director of the Becraft Scholars Program in January 2021, I knew that creating a true sense of belonging for all families, especially Black families, was the most vital element of my job. It has always been my personal and professional goal to ensure every human I encountered felt seen, valued, and heard. I rarely used the word “belonging”; I just knew I wanted people to feel safe and at home, in my presence and in the communities I had a part in building.

Yet when I arrived at Fulcrum, the word “belonging” had become the buzzword in the diversity, equity, and inclusion sector. From large organizations to clothing companies, everyone wanted to make their clients and customers feel a sense of belonging. And rightfully so—belonging, while a current buzzword in the DEI space, is the right word and the right goal.

However, not unlike love, belonging is more than a word—it is an action, a behavior. And of all the places in the world, shouldn’t Catholic schools be havens of belonging? A place where every kid and every family feels deeply known, seen and valued, and most of all, loved?

But what is belonging? A few synonyms for belonging are love, kinship, and faithfulness. While these words beautifully align with what we instill in our students, it’s essential to express more than a definition of belonging and to illuminate what belonging feels like. So, I began searching high and low for a definition of belonging that would eloquently and powerfully light a path forward for my work and our schools. Enter Beth Foraker. Beth, an educator and founder and director of the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion, has a definition of belonging that stopped me in my tracks.

Beth says, “Belonging asks us to consider inclusion in a deeper, more elevated way. It feels more like what we are called to do as faithful Catholics, much more than the sanitized, utilitarian word of inclusion. Belonging is when your heart rests. It is when you feel down to your core that your presence is enough. No worthiness is needed, no hurdles to jump. Belonging feels more faithful, more loving, and more compassionate.” No words have resonated more deeply in my heart or mind.

Imagine what our schools, furthermore, our world would feel like if every student and every family felt that their presence alone was enough. What if marginalized students didn’t have to live up to unrealistic standards of perfection to gain access to a good education? Instead, what if all students were afforded the opportunity to live in the fullness of their humanity? While I love witnessing students shine in moments of excellence, I am more moved by students feeling loved and valued in moments of challenge, which is the heart of belonging. Beth reminds us that no worthiness is needed in communities where real belonging exists and there are no hurdles to jump.

Unfortunately, there are members of our human family that continually jump hurdles as a means of survival and still are reminded of their alleged unworthiness. It is time that we all commit to centering belonging in all that we do. In our relationships, in our homes, in our parishes, but most of all, in our schools. Just imagine the love, joy, and peace that would flow from the halls of our schools and into the world.

That is the world I want to live in and strive to build.