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Treava Milton ’83 in the Memorial Chapel for UNITED Chapel Service
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Treava Milton ’83

Alumna Treava Milton ’83 gave this reflection at the UNITED chapel service on Friday, November 10.

I would like to thank Dr. Tisdale-Fisher, Ms. Duprey, UNITED, all my colleagues, laborers in the vineyard, my co-laborers in education, Emily, everybody. It's really good to be home. Thank you for taking the time to recognize and uplift my experiences here at St. Andrew’s and those of my fellow St. Andreans. I’m humbled and grateful for the audience because hopefully for the most part you chose to be here. This talk is dedicated to my nephew. He’s four years old and he loves animals, and he has taught me about 15 different types of dinosaur. I took a text from the book of Genesis that’s fun for me to explore, and I hope you’ll take a closer look when you have an opportunity on your own. So my goal is to read the text, paraphrase it, and then share a few points that were salient for me. In the interest of brevity, I’m asking that you allow me to bypass some supporting points that I would normally make and just suspend disbelief for a moment. Let your mind believe that anything is possible. I’m in the book of Genesis 6:5-14a.

5And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

6And it repented the Lord that he made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

7And the Lord said, I will destroy man, whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

8But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

9Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.


11The Earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.


13And God said unto Noah, “The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

14Make thee an ark of gopher wood ....

Mankind was described as corrupt, evil, and violent, and God’s heart was broken about that. And so God established a response using natural elements. That response was a flood designed to destroy all living creatures of land, sea, and air, except for Noah and his family. And Noah was given a job building a structure designed for salvation of his family and, by extension, mankind. I want us to notice if we read the text on our own, that God facilitates the issue and the answer simultaneously. When we look more deeply at the text, we will see that in the original language, evil was not restricted to shocking, heinous behavior. Their understanding of evil included subtle behavior that was mean-spirited or designed to cause a rupture between people. So evil could actually be designing a system that would pilfer pennies at a time from millions of people over time, or it could be walking in the dining hall and seeing something that you don’t understand and saying that it’s funny or laughing at someone or making disparaging comments.

The original language is meant to convey that corruption and violence were coursing through the earth in the way that blood rushes through our veins. Jonathan Cahn, in The Josiah Manifesto, lists several institutions that seem to be infected by this kind of corruption. He talks about the media, entertainment, the public square, corporations, schools, and governments. I want you to also know that Noah’s name means comfort, consolation, and rest. And he was chosen because he lived antithetically to destructive, corrosive behavior. He was a countercultural individual, described as righteous, meaning he lived in a way that cultivated authenticity, vitality, and strength. Whatever character traits Noah possessed, God’s plan was to preserve and multiply them. And Noah answered the call to become a willing participant in God’s plan for the preservation of mankind. But yet Noah’s commitment to building posed its own set of challenges. In an enclosed space under stressful times, Noah was tasked with housing herbivores and carnivores, wolves and lambs, clean animals and unclean animals.

He had to shelter leaf-destroying insects in the same space with giraffes who needed leaves to survive. He had to house lions and crocodiles who feast on elephants. He had to house squid and clownfish and zooplankton and crows, hyenas, vultures, and Tasmanian devils. And we don’t know if Noah had allergies, if he despised the smells, if he was afraid of lions or grossed out by caterpillars. But we know that he accepted the challenge. We know that he accepted the responsibility to build, and he built a structure he had never seen for an event that he had never experienced. So Noah did not have all the answers, but he must have had passion. He had the intestinal fortitude, the strength of conviction, it took to build a vehicle of salvation, moment by moment. I want to suggest that Noah accepted the responsibility and the challenge of building and became a willing participant with God and the universe because he understood that the survival of mankind was at stake.

UNITED is designed to deepen connections between alumni, parents of color, students, and identify mentors to learn strategies to navigate academic, professional, and personal challenges. UNITED is designed to build.

As I consider these objectives, my goal is not to give you three points or three ways to become successful—whatever that may be—but it’s to really draw your attention to some of the ways in which relationships can be built and managed and maintained. As I consider the objectives, I want to lean on my work with iChange Collaborative, with coaching organizational founders, small business owners, and high tech leaders, as well as research coming from Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan, McKinsey Global Consulting. I want to tell you that there’s a common thread.

People are desperate for authentic connection—connection to themselves and to other people—and it seems to be that tethering has replaced assembling together in the spirit of authentic connection. One of the tragedies is that with all of the pressure around innovation, neuroscience suggests that our brain is most likely to innovate when it knows that it is safe, loved, and that it belongs. I want to lean on the work of Glennon Doyle, who is a podcaster and author of Untamed, to tell you that we can be better at authentic relationship when we understand that even acute disconnections are inevitable in our relationships.

When ruptures are acknowledged, and when there are apologies, moments of injury offer the most profound opportunities for growth and deeper connection. Again, the issue and the resolution in the same gift box. Problems occur when injuries to connection are rarely acknowledged, and they are rarely acknowledged in relationships where there are power differentials. The work of storyteller and researcher Dr. Brené Brown reminds us to rethink the ways in which we experience and think about awkward moments and vulnerability. When we strengthen our internal locus of control, we can fortify ourselves against behavior that is designed to shame us. These are the things that we need to keep in mind when we think about how relationships are built, developed, and maintained. I entered St. Andrew’s six years after the first class of girls in 1979, as the only black female student in my graduating class. I was from an underserved community called the Bronx—the place that on one hand brought hip hop culture to the world, and on the other hand, bore the scintillating, undignified marks of scarcity. I was from a place where weakness, vulnerability, and asking for help was a death sentence.

As a result, I was the product of a fragile family system. Fragile partially because both my parents were born and raised in the segregated South and bore the battle scars that come with survival and a racialized society. I was from a place where it was very uncool to be intelligent or smart, and it was often unsafe to go outside and play. And then I found myself in Noah’s Ark. And while I was a lamb and there were wolves, there were spaces that were deliberately and intentionally created for me where I could find reprieve. And I’ll talk more about that tonight.

I found a lifelong friend in the ark, and we have lived, loved, laughed, grieved, and celebrated together. The entire SAS community held us up while we buried our family members in the same week. Twenty-four years after I graduated from St. Andrew’s, I returned to SAS as a faculty member. That career move became my opportunity to connect to my inner Noah—to build, to create rooms where students could breathe, where they could be confused or unsure or angry or vulnerable or exhausted by being a brown kid in a beautiful yet overwhelmingly white space, or where they could be a neurodiverse kid in a space that overwhelmed their senses.

Jordan Bonner, class of 2016, recently said to me, “I didn’t know what I needed, but you knew that I needed a place where I could just sit down, eat spaghetti, and breathe.”

I’m going to ask my students to come on up with your baskets and just pass [the items] out. So as they pass out your identities on the ark, I’m going to ask you all to have a conversation with someone who might be on the ark with you. Find out about how that person might live, or what they may need to survive or thrive. Talk about the ways in which Noah had to go about facilitating peace.

And I’m going to leave you with this charge. Understand that during your attempts to build yourself, your family, your career at St. Andrew’s, there will almost always be the possibility that giraffes will argue with elephants over leaves. Or the rhino will use water from the shark tank to hydrate himself, or the eagle won’t be concerned about dropping waste on the tigers. But don’t let that stop you from building.

Build with passion. Build with intentionality. Build people every opportunity that you get. Build them so they know that they belong, and they stop contorting themselves to fit in every action. Every word, every glance, every moment is connected to an outcome that we cannot see. You can choose to be a willing vessel of strength for someone every single day. And when you do this, may you find grace in the sight of God, for the survival of mankind is at stake.

Thank you.

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