How can SPU better serve our city and our world?
Perkins Center Director Accepts the Challenge of Leadership
HOW DOES SEATTLE PACIFIC University engage the culture in a divided world?
That’s the pressing question on the mind
of Tali Hairston, recently invited by President Philip Eaton to become special assistant to the president and director of the John Perkins
Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development. In his new role, Hairston says he wants to see SPU contribute to the reconciliation movement
in Seattle and the nation.
Born and raised in the culturally and economically
diverse community of the Rainier Valley in South Seattle, Hairston came to
SPU in 2001 as assistant director of campus ministries. Now at
the helm of the Perkins Center, he will lead Seattle Pacific
in a comprehensive initiative born out of a dream and a partnership
between Eaton and the legendary civil rights leader John Perkins.
“Dr. Perkins saw something special in SPU’s leadership and in its students,” says Hairston. “He decided he wanted to give his name and support to our diversity efforts.”
What Seattle Pacific is trying to achieve with the Perkins Center
is very different than merely paying lip service to diversity,
emphasizes Hairston. “When we say diversity,
we don’t mean the same thing as many other universities do. To us, diversity means unity and reconciliation in Christ. We’re talking
about being a whole community: one body, many parts. The parts may be different,
but they come together for the strength of the body.”
It’s a radical vision, he says. “While other universities wonder how they can diversify, SPU — through the Perkins Center — is
asking a much bigger question: ‘How can
we become more diverse and, by so doing, better serve our city and advocate for positive
change in the world?’”
Helping to shape the work of the Perkins Center is an advisory
board, chaired by Eaton, that includes Perkins and other leaders
such as Harvey Drake, president of Emerald City Outreach Ministries
in Seattle; Gary Ames, former president and CEO of London-based
MediaOne International; Deborah Wilds, program officer for the
Education Division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Allen Belton, senior associate director of urban and global missions at University
Presbyterian Church in Seattle; and Alex Gee, pastor of Fountain of Life Family Worship Center in Madison, Wisconsin.
In the coming years, says Hairston, the Perkins Center will
build new partnerships with ethnically diverse churches and leaders
in the greater Seattle community. It will provide training and
opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to participate
in the work of community development, and it will encourage scholarship
in the areas of racial relations and reconciliation. The Center
will also play a key role in recruiting ethnically diverse faculty,
staff, and students to Seattle Pacific, and in shaping a campus
environment that is welcoming to everyone.
“Many SPU students are saying, ‘We want to help with the work of reconciliation, but we don’t know how,’” says Hairston.
His answer? “Sometimes God’s plan isn’t always the clear or easy path. But when God calls you to do great things, you’ve got to walk with his vision in mind. The role of the Perkins Center is to empower people to do the work of reconciliation.”
— BY SARAH JIO
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