A Healing Hand that Leads to a Charge to Lead

By Chase Vincent

His forehead pulsated with worry lines. Outside, the air was tense, cold and rigid, but his office wasstuffy, warm, and felt like a tight box. The school administrator summoned me here to his office to help restore our community’s morale at the start of a new term after traumatic tensions tore through our school at the end of the previous semester. Campus violence led to a visit from the police, stealing the normal ambience that captured my love the moment I set foot on our campus situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A student used the n-word and outrage and division traveled fast throughout campus. White students and black students were fighting. It was loud and chaotic. In two years, I had growninto a campus leader and a person the administration turned to in a time of crisis, becoming the person a little girl in a pink shirt saw five years ago.

I exited the van and there she was, Kai — that little girl in a pink shirt. She was adorable — small with short brown hair. The sun was beaming down on us and she walked up to me and did not say a word. She just held my hand. At the time, I was twelve years old and I could not grasp the concept of why she was holding my hand because I was a perfect stranger. I would later learn that she was abandoned by both of her parents and a church was taking care of her. All she wanted was a friend and someone to cling on to and I stood out to her. She would just hold my hand for hours and smile.

I was at a Navajo-Nation reservation in New Mexico on a 10 day service trip. It proved to be an escape from the turmoil of my life. I was the oldest sibling with high achieving parents and a younger brother and sister who seemed to be following Mom and Dad’s directions. I was the odd one. In middle school, I was one of four blacks in a grade of 95 students. I felt isolated socially from the white students and even the other African Americans. I spent a lot of time alone until the summers when I found refuge in my work on mission trips. I ran a basketball camp in Haiti for two summers and spent one building houses for the Sioux Tribe in North Dakota on another mission trip.

Through all of the mission trips, I encountered people with lives that made my complaints about being a minority seem trivial. There were also people like Kai, who looked up to me. On one day, we sat together coloring in picture books when my youth pastor yelled “dinner.” I jumped up and mistakenly stepped on a few crayons and smashed them under my overgrown feet. She burst into laughter, thinking it was the funniest thing. My goofy clumsiness had never triggered such amusement.

In 10th grade, I entered boarding school and a path to becoming that girl on the mission trips. I no longer had to escape on a mission trip to become a leader. I grew into one on campus.

Perhaps the birth of my leadership role on campus came as a sophomore in World Geography.I stood before the class delivering my argument highlighting the correlation between the high usage of social media and antisocial behavior among teenagers. A week later, my teacher, who was resurrecting the school’s debate team, invited me to be captain of the team.

Months after leading the team, I was called to help usher the social justice initiative, following the racial unrest that shocked our community. I was among the four students and four faculty members convening the meeting. Through the forum, we reconnected a temporarily broken campus. In the process, I saw the importance of making my voice a force to heal my community.

Chase Vincent, a graduate of Oak Hill Academy (VA), is a freshman at American University.