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Profile | SPARC for justice

Cor Jesu students Claire Koster and Naomi See are driven to make the world a better place through their student-led organization

Claire Koster and Naomi See
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
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 motivates them.

How did SPARC begin, and what is its mission?

Claire: 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.

Part 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?

Claire: 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 folks.

How are you taking the discussion to the next level, and encouraging action on issues?

Naomi: 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?

Claire: 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.

This 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.

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