“Overcoming Obstacles” by Roland Gibson

Teacher, what is the greatest commandment? Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘Love our neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:36-39

Have you ever asked yourself, why, our Country, ‘founded on Christian Principles’, has had difficulty honoring that commandment? Why is our Country still struggling with issues of Race, Gender, Inequity and Injustice?

The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others. Albert Schweitzer

Schweitzer was a person who made a conscious effort to align his actions with his beliefs. He made a life-long commitment to honor the two greatest commandments. I don’t think he was a Quaker, but he shared Quaker values.

Justice will only be achieved when those who do not suffer injustice feel the same outrage as those who do. Socrates – Socrates was definitely not a Quaker. However, he could have been.

This morning will be about interventions, by individuals who Overcame Obstacles.

Thank you for inviting me to return to Durham Meeting. I have been uplifted by our previous conversations and hope they have added value to your life-journey. We’ve all been inundated with bad news, so today, I thought it would be refreshing to share some good news. For those in this room, for the first time, previous conversations have included asking questions:

Why are things related to race, the way they are today?

What did Quakers do, from the beginning, about issues of inequity and injustice, related to matters of race that was very different from the ‘mainstream’?

Two significant events embracing ‘Outrage’, ‘Love thy neighbor’, and ‘Showing the will to help others’, initiated by white people; that got my attention.

1965 – August. I was just hired to teach, my first job. Looking for an apartment, I came upon a church, drove into parking lot, hoping someone could give me information about a Realtor. I met the minister.

I did not know, that minister, along with other church members, college students and professors, from Oberlin College, were ‘outraged’, made a commitment to ‘help others’, and took a significant risk. They went to Blue Mountain, Mississippi, in December 1964, to rebuild one of the 30 Black Churches that had been burned. They all returned. Some white people, from the North, who went to help Black people in their struggle for Justice and Equity, in the South, returned in a box. That got my attention. 2 of 8

1973 – August. I was hired, as an Elementary Principal, in the Town of Weston, MA. After I was hired, I learned 7-years before, 1966, a handful of individuals, were ‘outraged’, and made a commitment to ‘help others’ by addressing decades of inequity and injustice in BPS. That got my attention.

Quakers understood, before Independence in 1776, there was something very wrong, fundamentally wrong, with a social, political and economic system that was unjust, and oppressive, and supported by The Christian Church.

Quakers understood the lofty concepts of ‘Freedom’, ‘We the people’, and ‘The pursuit of life, liberty and happiness’, were not inclusive, they were a ‘Myth’! Some groups were intentionally excluded from the Social Contract: Native People, People of Color, Women, and those who did not share ‘religious beliefs’ of those in power.

There have always been two versions of The United States of America story:

  • ‘Land of the free and home of the brave’.
  • ‘Land of the free and home of the brave, with significant flaws, from the beginning, which continue to result in profound conflict’.

Today, I will draw your attention to interventions, created by individuals, to address one of the profound flaws – inequity and injustice in education.

There are two take aways. First, Quakers have had a long history of challenging tradition, being outraged, and trying to live enlightened lives, by actively honoring the Greatest Commandments. Second, here are two illustrations of non-Quakers, being outraged, and acting on Quaker values.

  • Jonathan Kozol, and
  • A few citizens of Weston, MA.

“Overcoming Obstacles”  Time Line: 1950’s and beyond, modified by Roland A. Gibson

1954 – Brown v. Board of Education, Supreme Court landmark decision. Implications?

1955 – Roland graduates high school, enlists US Air Force. I took an oath to ‘Defend the Constitution and the United States’. What was I supposed to do about the flaws that impacted me and others? A conversation for another time.

1960 – Roland attends College, in Quincy, had to deal with matters of race; puzzled, because this was a ‘Christian College’. Race matters never addressed in classes.


a. Spring – ‘March on Washington’. Why?

b. Every city in America was in turmoil – why? Boston – Huge Demonstrations by black parents and boycotts by their children. Why? Gross inequity and injustice in BPS; was never addressed in college classes.


a. Operation Exodus – Black and White parents came together to address problems.

b. Jonathon Kozol begins teaching at Gibson Elementary School, Dorchester. He was 28. The next year I was 28, teaching in Town of Harvard. (Read excerpts – ‘Frozen In Time, Remembering The Students Who Changed A Teachers Life’, June 30, 2015, NPR, All Things Considered)


a. Spring – ‘March on Selma’. Why?

b. Summer, Camp Blue Hill, Roxbury Weston – Initiated by a handful of white suburban parents, women who were ‘outraged’! See Weston Historical Society November 2017 Bulletin, pages 8, 14-16.

c. Fall, Roxbury Weston Pre-School. See Weston Historical Society November 2017 Bulletin, pages 11-14.

d. Fall, Roland begins teaching career Harvard, Mass, upper income, suburban town. My students were baffled by turmoil. What was I supposed to tell them?

e. Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), created, transportation initially funded by Carnegie Foundation, and later by the Massachusetts Legislature.

1966 – 200 Boston resident students bussed to 6-suburban towns:

Arlington, Braintree, Lexington, Lincoln, Newton and Wellesley.

1967 – Weston Public Schools becomes METCO partner, along with close to 30 other suburban towns.

1968 – National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder, Kerner Commission Report:

a. Our country is moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.

1973 – Roland appointed Elementary School Principal, Grades 3 – 6, Weston Public Schools; first cohort of Boston resident students in grade 6.

1974 – U. S. District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity found Boston’s Schools to be Unconstitutionally segregated…initiated forced busing plan.

1984 – Roland becomes 5th Weston METCO Program Coordinator, inherits major challenges.

See Historical Society Bulletin, pg. 27

1993 – District recognized by Mass Board of Education – ‘Exemplary Integrated Education Model’; and The Network, a Private Non-Profit – ‘Outstanding efforts in celebrating diversity’. See Weston Historical Society Fall Bulletin, pg. 29.

2017 – November: Roxbury Weston Preschool and Weston METCO Celebrate                 50 years.

a. Weston Historical Society Forum speakers: 1 – Founder citizen; 1 – Founder                     educator; 2 – Weston METCO Coordinators.

b. Over 100 people in the room, standing room only! Founders, parents and students from Boston and Weston. Some parents and students were in my school and spoke with me about the impact this program had on them and their children.

c. One panelist asked: ‘Why are you here?’ Responses:

  • (1) To say ‘Thank You.’
  • (2) To continue to support the program’
  • (3) I see value and have personal experience with the program.
  • (4) Panelists are great!
  • (5) We still have ‘flaws’ and not dealing with them is not an option!

d. Follow-up meeting, to ‘Brain Storm’ initiated.

This is not about ‘blame’ or ‘guilt’. It’s about making a commitment to honor the ‘Greatest Commandment’; it’s about being ‘Outraged’; it’s about ‘showing compassion and the will to help others’, something very personal, seeking and finding ‘the purpose of human life’.


Mr. Gibson began his education career as a Social Studies Teacher, grades 7 – 9, at Bromfield School in 1965, during The Civil Rights Movement – the latest struggle by African American citizens, to achieve Civil Rights equal to those of white citizens, following centuries of oppression, inequity and injustice. His 50-plus years of service, in public and private schools include positions as: Department Head; Teacher; Assistant Headmaster, Director of Admissions; Field Elementary School Principal, Grades 3 – 6; Graduate School of Education Professor, UMass Lowell; School Committee member in Littleton, his home town; Educational Consulting, and facilitating workshops in: conflict resolution, parent training, problem solving, board development, staff development, cultural identity, equity and diversity.

Mr. Gibson challenged traditional views of identity, which profoundly impact student achievement. He believes strongly that each educator has a role to play in improving the education process for all students and creating change in society. As a result of his work to improve outcomes for all students and facilitate change Mr. Gibson has received numerous awards.


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