Naomi See and Claire Koster have a certain spark for social justice
issues. The Cor Jesu students, along with friends from another Catholic
high school, started SPARC (Students Participating Actively in Real
Change), which meets regularly as a network for students interested in
social justice issues. They explain why they started the group and what
How did SPARC begin, and what is its mission?
I have to give Naomi credit for this one. We had talked about the
possibility of somehow creating a multi-school network of social justice
clubs, and she connected with two SLUH students (Teddy and Delton ) who
were involved in social justice at their own school. The four of us had
a meeting in November of 2016, talked about how we could create more
space for social justice and advocacy in our high schools, and SPARC was
born. SPARC really works to build a network of students from both
private and public high schools in St. Louis who are passionate about
social justice. We are currently composed of about 125 students from
about 20 area high schools. We seek to create a community in which we
all can offer resources and support to each other. What we mean by
“support” is support in a more relational sense. To have a group of
young people who share a passion is incredibly invigorating, and through
sharing conversations, we not only refocus each other on the issues at
hand, but we can talk about problems we may be encountering in our
school communities and ways in which we can work to alleviate those.
of your work is to encourage discussion among a diverse group of high
school teens about social justice related issues. Are the perspectives
varied, and what have you learned from that?
I’ve learned more than I could ever put into words. One thing stands
out though: often, Naomi and I, being white, are a minority in the room.
Something I have learned more about is the way in which minorities are
so often expected to be “teachers” to their peers. I’ve benefited from
this generosity myself, for example, through friends of color talking to
me about their experience of race. However, learning that people of
color (or people who identify as a part of any marginalized group) are
so often put in the position of “teacher” really challenged me to learn
on my own, because as thankful as I am for their willingness to speak
with me about their experiences, they should not have to constantly put
their own experiences on display for my own white education. I don’t
know if I would have realized the position I was putting them in by
asking questions had it not been for this marvelous group of SPARC
How are you taking the discussion to the next level, and encouraging action on issues?
We have come to understand social activism as a cycle. The cycle starts
with passion. The basic instinct and desire to want to make the world
better in some way. This is simple but crucial. Passion is the why
behind the how. It is the reason a movement continues when it gets hard
and rises when it falls. Next, discussion. We feel this intermediary
piece is crucial to channeling passion toward productive and effect
action. Discussion means identifying a problem and exploring solutions.
It also means determining the implications of solutions to both
individuals and larger structures. And finally, action. Action is the
culmination of passion and thought, and it is important to recognize it
as such. For us, action must be based in contemplation and knowledge in
order for it to be impactful.
In our experience, galvanizing
people into action can be hard. Not because the passion isn’t present,
but there is often a fear that accompanies the transition from
discussion to action. Often, it is a fear from an individual about their
own insignificance in the matter or place in the movement. What we have
tried to understand ourselves, as well as communicate, is that everyone
has a place in making the world better. Everyone has the ability to do
“what they can, where they are, with what they have.” To understand that
is extremely powerful.
How has this group impacted your faith?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said of church: “It’s not the place you
come to, it’s the place you go from.” This expresses rather perfectly
the way my experiences with SPARC have influenced my faith. I like to
think of social justice as a larger-scale model of loving people well;
as relationship zoomed out. SPARC has helped me understand what that
looks like, and how, in my own life and world, to actively be Christ’s
hands and feet.
Naomi: I truly believe that we
are closest to God when we join in His mission. In church, my
relationship with God is based on reverence, a needed removal from Him
as a human being to recognize His omnipotence. I acknowledge this as an
important part of defining who God is. However, the God that I am
closest to, the one who I go to in my most joyful and most painful
moments, is the one who provides for the needy, wraps His arms around
the hurting, and leads the march for the mistreated. This is the God
that I claim as my own and spend my life trying to be of service to.
group has shown me this God in so many ways. In the impassioned faces
of my peers, determined to use their lives for the good of others, I see
my God. In the amazing mentors and leaders in the community who have
lent their lives to their communities, I see my God. In the people who
face every obstacle, in society and in themselves, with an undying hope,
I see my God.