POWER OF TEACHING: Kalyan Balaven, Dunn School’s first Black headmaster, will deliver the keynote speech at Saturday morning’s gathering at the Old Mission. | Credit: Courtesy

What started as a couple of Georgia-born men of the cloth ​— ​one White, one Black ​— ​getting together for lunch at Five Points Shopping Center about 18 months ago will launch this Saturday as an ecumenical, multiracial cross-pollination between Old Mission Santa Barbara and True Vine Bible Fellowship, Lompoc’s predominantly Black Baptist church.

Leading the charge for Saturday’s event are True Vine’s Pastor James Cray and the Old Mission’s Fr. Dan Lackie. Working behind the scenes to make this gathering happen have been philanthropic co-conspirators, friends, and occasional head-butters — one White, one Black ​— ​downtown property owner and real estate investor Richard Berti and the Endowment for Youth Committee’s Cliff Lambert. Uniting the two faith leaders has been “a passion for breaking down the barriers,” said Fr. Lackie. Pastor Cray described it as “breaking down the walls of racism, sexism, and classicism.” Delivering the keynote speech, titled “Refuse Hate ​— ​Embrace Love,” will be Kalyan Balaven, the first Black headmaster of the Dunn School in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Balaven said his talk will focus on “the power of teaching,” highlighting the transformative impact that a high school speech and debate teacher ​— ​Mr. Lindsey ​— ​had on his own life. At the time, Balaven was attending James Logan High School in Union City, California. Smoke from the Rodney King riots was still fresh and racial tensions thick.  

“He really looked beyond me as a student in a classroom and saw all the struggles and challenges outside the classroom and took it on himself to rescue me,” Balaven said of Mr. Lindsey. “In rescuing me, he embodied love.” 

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Balaven said Lindsey trained his students to understand the perspective of others, not merely to judge them. “He made us feel powerful in our ability to embrace other perspectives,” he said. “It’s much easier to understand the world through the simplified lens of everything being black or white with no grays. But it’s our job as educators to make it as complex as possible, with as many grays as possible.”

Balaven has been sought out by local school administrators for his thoughts regarding recent racial incidents, including one in which a group of Santa Barbara Junior High students reenacted George Floyd’s murder by kneeling on the neck of a Black classmate. “Mr. Lindsey would have asked why this happened in the first place,” Balaven stated. “He would have wanted a deeper understanding of the conditions that existed prior to the incident.”

In addition to Balaven’s speech and comments from Pastor Cray and Fr. Lackie, six high school students of multiple ethnic backgrounds will receive scholarship checks of $5,000 each. Two of the six recipients will speak. 

This Saturday’s event ​— ​which will take place at 11:30 a.m. at the lawn in front of the Old Mission ​— ​is not the first of its kind. Earlier this year, just after a guilty verdict was rendered in the George Floyd murder trial, Father Larry Gosselin of the Old Mission and a clutch of parishioners participated in a joint event held at True Vine. Sizable donations were made, and Father Gosselin, moved by a much more emotionally charged service, waved his arms heavenward, swaying to the music. 

“He didn’t preach per se, but he delivered a short sermonette, maybe three to five minutes long,” said Pastor Cray. “It was so genuine, so sincere. He rocked the place.”

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