A Reflection on Christian Paige: Forest Ridge Keynote Speaker
Curtis Leighton, Upper School Faculty & Service Learning Coordinator

A few weeks ago, I interviewed Christian Paige. Paige is a native of Tacoma, a slam poet, and speaker who was invited by Forest Ridge to offer a keynote address at Cor Unum Days, two days of learning, service, and activism in the Upper School. Paige describes himself simply, as “just a somebody, who wants community to work for everybody.” His talk was a huge hit with the students, and his mild-mannered delivery belied the explosive rhetoric and powerful storytelling of both his poetry and prose. After his keynote, Christian was kind enough to sit down with me and answer a few of my questions. Below are a few of my takeaways from our conversation.

Through interviewing Christian, and through hearing his remarks at our school assembly, I learned that he has a profound respect for his ancestors and the way past generations have persevered so that he could enjoy a rich and full life. As a white man, I often default to an individualist rather than a collectivist view of the world. Christian remarks reminded me of the collective that surrounds and supports me, a great lineage that stretches back into the past and anticipates the future. Christian is a person of profound faith, which is something we share, and it was illuminating to hear him speak about the Scriptures that were passed on to him, and how certain passages have inspired him over the years. I always find it consoling to hear the rationale a person has for their faith, especially when that person’s background and their rationale are different than my own. We spoke of the poets we love and about how we often conceive of our work in terms of vocation. I came away from our conversation with a greater sense of magnanimity (to use his word) at the presence and purpose his brings to his work.

The experience of getting to know Christian reminds me that each of us has our own small part to play in the work of educating young people. I can often get so focused on my individual goals and tasks, that I lose focus on the power of the collective, and I sometimes fail to acknowledge with gratitude and reverence the sacrifices that so many past generations made so that I can do what I do now. I hope to bring a more collective approach to my work as a professional and as an activist. I was particularly moved by Christian’s work for climate justice. He readily admits that he is not an expert, but that does not stop him for doing his work of animating and inspiring young people. I think this approach, full of practicality and humility, as well as a healthy sense of self, is something that I will remember and carry with me.