Darryl J. Ford is currently the Head of School at William Penn Charter School, a role he has held since 2007. He is a highly respected independent school leader who is revered for his clear and visionary thinking, his ability to create transformational change, his commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and his eloquent public speaking. Ford’s former roles include Director of Middle School at Penn Charter as well as Head and Executive Director of St. Gregory’s Episcopal School in Chicago. Ford’s current board service includes AIM Academy and Cliveden of the National Trust. Prior board service includes Villanova University, Friends Council on Education, Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools, Steppingstone Scholars, and Pennsylvania Association of Independent School’s Commission on Accreditation. Ford is an art collector, plays the piano and organ at his church, and is an avid sports fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, Eagles, and Villanova basketball. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Chicago as well as a B.A. and B.S. from Villanova University and is an alumnus of Friends Select School. He and his wife, Dr. Gail Sullivan, and their sons reside in East Falls, Philadelphia.
Source of Light Traveling Forward Darryl J. Ford
September 22, 2021
Thank you, Drew, and thank you to the incredible Friends Council team: April, Deborah, Betsy. And what a pleasure to be part of this program with such incredible Quaker school friends: Keisha Hutchins, a talented teacher, musician, and singer; and Cydney Brown, Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate 2020. I know these friends will move us all as the evening unfolds.
My hope is waning but my faith is not. I don’t know about you, but given all that we have faced, these past several years, as a world, nation, city, school, as teachers and students, and as parents and children, I have had to work hard on both my personal hope and faith.
This evening, I want to reflect on three notions: storms, joy, and being called. Storms, joy, and being called.
“Encourage my soul and let us journey on. Though the night is dark and I am far from home; Thanks be to God, the morning light appears. The storm is passing over. The storm is passing over. The storm is passing over, hallelujah.” [Charles A. Tindley]
These past several years, I have felt like we have been in the midst of a storm. I have felt like I have been in the midst of a storm. We are experiencing and fighting a global pandemic. We are trying to do the hard and important work of racial reconciliation with inter-generations and intra-generations of people disagreeing, fighting, clashing and dying in ways that resemble the civil rights movements of our parents and grand-parents and great grand-parents. The struggle for gender equality and the rights of LGBTQA+ take two steps forward and one step back. Gun violence in my city and in so many urban areas has risen and is claiming too many lives, including many youth. And all of this is occurring as we fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
And if this were not enough, the wrath and devastation of literal storms are real. Tropical storms Michael, Ida, and Irma have been unreal, surreal, and destructive. 20 years after Katrina – almost to the day – many experienced Tropical Storm Irma’s wrath. Here in my hometown, both the banks of the Schuylkill River flooded in ways that have not been seen in more than a hundred years. Up and down the east coast from Florida to Maine, many people experienced destruction, and we witnessed the loss of life.
“Though the night is dark and I am far from home.” While some of these societal storms are necessary to help affirm and acknowledge and achieve the recognition of that of God in each individual, all of these storms are unsettling, or in Quaker nomenclature, “un-gathered.” And to boot, covid disconnection is real, doesn’t help, and ungathers us from the communities we long.
And yet, I return to the words where I began, “Encourage my soul and let us journey on...Thanks be to God, the morning light appears. The storm is passing over. The storm is passing over. The storm is passing over. Hallelujah.”
I know that we are still in the midst of many storms, but as I start this school year, and as I work on my hope and my faith, I am starting with the admonition of taking courage as we confront the storms in our midst, journeying on in the educational and social justice work we are doing, and giving thanks to the almighty as we undertake all of this good work. Encourage my soul and let us journey on.
In my opening meetings with my colleagues at my school, I asked them to play a game with me. It is called 4 Pics 1 Word. Perhaps you know the game or became familiar with it like I did. It is one of the free games on my cell phone. In the game, you see four pictures, and then you need to determine the commonality from the pictures and type in a word. For my colleagues at my school, I flipped the rules, gave the word joy, and asked them to think about what personal four pictures they would select to indicate their joy.
What brings you joy?
What are your 4 personal pictures to indicate your joy?
What brings you joy?
Now, think about 3 personal pictures and 1 school picture (for those of you who work in schools) which bring you joy. How can we foster joy in our Quaker communities? How can you foster joy in your Quaker community? How can you foster joy in your Quaker school with your students?
Choose joy. Even in the midst of the storms that we face and as we do the educational and social justice work that is in front of us, we can choose joy. This school year, as I confront the rough and tough on the ground work of our schools, I am striving to work on my hope and on my faith by actively choosing joy. The intention of joy and the action of joy. As the stewards of so many blessings, so many resources, and so much privilege in our Friends schools and Quaker communities – even as we confront so many storms, we can choose joy. Choose joy!
In the Old Testament, Abraham is instructed to leave his “house” and his “kindred” to go to an unfamiliar place. He is called to leave his home, to go to an unfamiliar territory, and to establish himself and his work in the midst of the unknown. In many ways, we, as Quaker school communities, have traveled “far from home” these past several years to an unknown land and to work in unknown territories--into a land of the lost and unfamiliar.
While the work recently presented to us may have been somewhat unfamiliar, like Abraham, I think each of us has been called to do this work.
We have many fine schools and great teachers across all sectors of schools, yet, I believe Friends schools are special. We know Friends schools are special and are uniquely equipped and positioned to take on the current storms that we face. I often say, Quaker schools are our best hope for the world.
Quaker schools are our best hope for the world. What a high calling!
And it is ours--as Quaker educators, Friends and friends, seekers of truth, foot soldiers of justice--to claim.
Friends school educators are special and uniquely positioned to confront the current storms that we face, while we choose joy along the way. Claim this high calling.
“Encourage my soul and let us journey on. Though the night is dark and I am far from home; Thanks be to God, the morning light appears. The storm is passing over. The storm is passing over. The storm is passing over, hallelujah.”