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Autumn 2004 | Volume 27, Number 4 | Features

How can SPU better serve our city and our world?

Perkins Center Director Accepts the Challenge of Leadership

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.”


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