Episode Show Notes

In this episode, Mike and Rod are joined by Willie Briscoe, SFC father and founder of the Hope Leadership Academy, for part two of their discussion about race and SFC’s new GRACE acronym.

Mike Siciliano, Upper School Dean of Students, has a long history with Sante Fe Christian, sitting in several roles including alumnus, US history teacher, and football coach. As a student, Siciliano felt he had teachers and coaches who personally invested in him and made a huge difference in his life. Now, he tries every day to continue that legacy for current SFC students, live up to the standard his teachers set for him, and have a lot of fun.

Rod Gilbert brings a fresh perspective as SFC’s Head of Schools. As a strong leader with a shepherd’s heart, Rod encourages SFC’s faculty, coaches, and staff to strive for excellence in all they do. At his core, Rod is an educator who wants children and their parents to see the world as something lovely, worth exploring and redeeming through Christ.

Willie Briscoe, SFC father and founder of the Hope Leadership Academy, grew up in Portland, Oregon with his mother, brother and two older sisters. He became a Christian in 1999 when he attended school at Point Loma Nazarene University. After graduating with his Bachelor’s degree, Willie started a small personal training business in North County San Diego, and for three years provided a steady income for his growing family. It was during this time when his pastor challenged him to prayerfully consider his next move and inquire if he was using his gifts in the best capacity. After several weeks of prayer and a short-term mission trip to Malawi, Willie launched the Hope Leadership Academy (HLA) in 2010. Willie’s greatest passion is spending time with his beautiful wife Kaci, and their three beautiful children.


00:00:00 – Introductions

00:00:23 – School to start using acronym of GRACE

00:02:38 – Shift from being “color blind” to acknowledging differences

00:06:04 – Goals of school for the implementation of GRACE Initiative and Third Option

00:11:59 – History of Hope Leadership Academy

00:16:53 – Discussing SFC diversity

00:19:18 – Need for consideration of age when discussing GRACE


Mike Siciliano [00:00:06] Welcome back to part two of our Eagle Perspective Podcast with Willie Briscoe, our guest. We’re talking about race, and Santa Fe Christian, and how those discussions are merging together, and what we’re doing about it. Let’s jump back in. Looking forward to getting this discussion going again.

Rod Gilbert [00:00:23] Going forward with us, we’re introducing a GRACE acronym that’ll filter its way through the community soon. The board has been shaping it with me, and you’ve been shaping it with me. We learned it from a consultant last year from Prestonwood Baptist School. I’m really delighted that that little acronym will help us. It gives us a biblical and, I think, a hospitable way to talk about it. Going forward, what does it mean to be hospitable to all human beings, and learning that our words matter, and that we can be tender to each other? At the core of it… I’m glad you brought up the whole digital citizenship. I want children to grow up into a kingdom mindset. A verse I quoted last night in one of the meetings was Luke 12:38: “To whom much is given much is expected.” We’re all blessed people. All three of us are. What does it mean to be blessed every morning, and then how do we go and invest in others? If we can be a light on the hill as a school, and if we can be… Paul calls it the light of the glory of the gospel of Christ in 2 Corinthians 3. If we can be that light to other people, and sometimes put our ego in check, and not be reactionary, we bring the gospel into every conversation. That’s really at the heart of this. I’m thankful. I’m thankful for you. You really held my hand through a lot of it.

Mike Siciliano [00:02:01] We could probably sit around and do a big thank you circle in this group.

Rod Gilbert [00:02:06] You’re not getting a raise, that’s for sure.

Mike Siciliano [00:02:08] Well, then, forget it. Let’s move on. One of the things that, for me, has been impactful on this — and I’m going to be a little bit vulnerable — you talked about being seen, and your family, and this idea of being different, obviously, in some ways. I grew up with this mentality of well, we’re not supposed to notice the differences. We’re all the same. It’s no different. Be color blind. Don’t see color.

Willie Briscoe [00:02:37] Human race. Don’t talk about it.

Mike Siciliano [00:02:38] One of the things that Miles has said is, “Well, wait a sec. When your friend goes and gets a tan, you compliment them on the tan, but when you see me, you say, ‘No, no. I don’t see color.’ Why don’t you see the color God gave me?” I think it’s that kind of stuff where we’re saying it’s okay to acknowledge the differences and the different experiences that come with that. That’s not the same as building a whole philosophy around the fact that we’re different. I don’t know for you… 

Willie Briscoe [00:03:17] It’s true. We look at a rose, and we recognize its beauty, but we don’t stop there. We look at a tulip, and we look at all the different type of flowers in the creation. It’s in Revelation where John is looking out. He says, “I saw man both great and small from different tribes and different nations.” This is a biblical picture of eternity. I don’t know if I’ll be tall in heaven, but he said there’s different sizes, there’s different nations, different tribes, and there’s a way that you can tell those people were different because I’m going to be represented some way the way that I am now. It’s going to be as different as you and I are right now. You’ll be able to understand that that’s Willie, and I’ll be able to understand that’s Mike. I would like to just go back. One of the things we didn’t talk about. At the height of all of this issue in the last couple of years when people were burning buildings and things were just going haywire in our community, on our streets, Rod had asked me to come and speak to all the staff. We haven’t followed up on that personally, but I would say that the amount of teachers that came to me afterwards, or texted me, or emailed me and said, “Thank you for giving dialogue to some of this conversation,” it was healthy. It wasn’t doctrinal; it was just sharing once again my story, and my life, and part of my kids’ lives. I think that’s where that healthy… When you start to have conversations, and you start to have communication around those things, it doesn’t mean we agree or everything I said was perfectly agreed upon, but it does mean that there’s a platform to work those things out. That was really healthy. Actually, it was helpful for me. I’ve done that probably 50 times in the last couple of years now — corporations, churches, and Santa Fe Christian — just in the issue, in non-Christian environments and in Christian environments. It’s been healthy for even the secular community to have conversations and have dialogue and then to make a plan about how are we doing this. It’s no different than the Me, Too movement in a sense that hey, this dark secret or this issue that people aren’t willing to talk about are trying to talk about it now. The fact that women are being brought out of the dark into the light with their issues and their pains that they didn’t feel like they had a platform to share in the past, I think it’s true biblically, even about what we’re talking about race and some of the things that we’re dealing with. Some people on both sides, white and black, have some very painful historical experiences, personal experiences. Those are hard to talk about sometimes.

Rod Gilbert [00:06:04] That’s well-put.

Mike Siciliano [00:06:04] I think one of the things we found in doing what we’ve been doing is that it actually feels really good to talk about it, even as someone who might approach this as like, “Well, wait a second. I know that there’s people over here talking about critical race theory. Is this that?” Even from the standpoint of I don’t know that I have anything to bring to this conversation, once we get into it, and we humanize it, and we build these relationships, it becomes, “Oh, I can talk about this.” We can disagree, and that’s okay, but there’s this heart that we share that comes through it. Rod, you mentioned the GRACE Initiative, and you mentioned we’ve been doing Third Option. What would be the goals of all of this for our campus? If we do this well, in 5 years, 10 years, what is it that we’re hoping we’ve gained?

Rod Gilbert [00:06:55] I think part of it would be an ever-growing understanding of the world around us and teaching the children how to have biblical principles to guide them, not just through good times but also tough times. Willie’s made this point to me before. This is not the last time our country will have a spike and heartache about race or a spike and heartache about something else. This is cyclical in a way for a society. If we overreact to it… Willie has taught me if we overreact too quickly, then it becomes a trendy fad thing that we do, and then a year from now it goes away. We’ve seen corporations do that. They latch onto whatever people are saying, and then they go to the next thing. But for me, it’s a Santa Fe core value that we love everyone, that we understand relationships all around us, that we speak carefully, that we love one…there’s a caring atmosphere. I think in our mentorship model as a school that’s what I feel like is a major part of the aroma here. A lot of that is training the kids how to talk about things and how to do it in a way that would warm Christ’s heart. I know that sounds metaphorical, but that really… For me, that’s it. When I gave my update to the board of this, and then in the meeting I referenced Philippians 2, 3, and 4: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind treat each other as if they’re more important than you.” Then it says, “Have this mind in you which is also in Christ.” If that’s a biblical mandate, you’re actually, Mike, not more important than me in the universe — the universe doesn’t work that way — but I get to wake up every day treating you as if you are more important than me. If I do that to you on a daily basis, it elevates your sense of life. You’re not more important than me, but I get to choose to treat you that way.

Willie Briscoe [00:09:14] Just like Jesus. He died for us.

Rod Gilbert [00:09:16] You get to wake up every day. We’re equal broken wounded healers. The three of us are wounded healers. Our pastor, Mark Foreman, actually used that phrase six months ago. We are wounded healers. I actually stole that phrase and stuck it into our strategic plan. I just thought that’s really good.

Mike Siciliano [00:09:34] All good teachers are thieves.

Rod Gilbert [00:09:37] I thought, “Wow, I’m going to make that a Santa Fe phrase.” If we wake up every day going, “We’re wounded healers” and I get to treat Willie as if he’s more important than me, then I’m fulfilling a gospel mandate. If that saturates my heart, the leaders around me, all the teachers, the kids end up picking up on it. To me, if that’s the way the mentors think about life and in the way they run their classes, which they do in such a beautiful way, I think our children and teenagers become transformers and become beautiful creatures for the glory of Christ.

Mike Siciliano [00:10:13] Really, what you’re saying is we want this to be a place where everybody gets to experience the gospel, everybody gets to experience Jesus. To the extent that may be in this area, there’s been some things that have been barriers to that, we don’t want any barriers to that.

Rod Gilbert [00:10:31] God, no.

Mike Siciliano [00:10:32] We want every student, every adult who’s here to feel like this place is for me, and I’m going to grow in my faith here. I’m going to experience the love of Jesus here.

Rod Gilbert [00:10:42] Many have. That’s why it’s such a beautiful place. It doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It’d be weird if we were pretending like it was perfect. That’s actually called a cult. I’m serious. If we paint it up as if there’s no problems, that’s actually psychotically damaging. Our marriages aren’t perfect… Willie’s marriage is perfect.

Mike Siciliano [00:11:04] Mine’s half perfect.

Rod Gilbert [00:11:06] Say yours is perfect for the camera. But even in my arc of learning… This is not a race thing; Angie and I. My arc of learning — her heart, her stories. Even this weekend we were on a walk, and I was learning things about things she did and talked about as a child. We’ve been married 30 years. I thought, “I didn’t know this about you.” I’m ever more fascinated by her, because I get to treat her as more important. Well, that’s 30 years of being in the same home. I have friends all around me that I’m just on the front end of getting to hear their journey. Why would I not want to learn how to talk about that better and enjoy it? I think at the core of it that allows us to have some of these more tender conversations.

Willie Briscoe [00:11:59] I agree. I’ve said this and to Mark Foreman, my pastor. I said it’s unfortunate that the military, and professional sports, and collegiate sports sometimes do a better job at this issue than the church does. They celebrate the differences. Sometimes they go to extremes. Then they recognize the difference of historical figures and things like that. The church really does. A lot of these books are calling the church out in having to deal with this issue better than the secular society does. I will just say with the outgoing headmaster prior to Rod coming on board, a few weeks prior to his leaving us he asked to have lunch with me. This didn’t just start with Rod. He asked to have lunch with me specifically on this issue before it was a huge issue. He goes, “We need to deal with this in our school.” He said that there’s specific reasons why he wanted to deal with it. I would say that we have been dealing with it, because our ministry, Hope Leadership Academy, has been involved with the early education kids at Santa Fe Christian and the elementary school-aged kids in bringing them together in community and serving projects for the last several years. The initiative of that started with wanting to have kids of different backgrounds and different cultures coming together early before they’re taught some of those negative attitudes and belief systems, and have them come into community where they learn the names of the individuals, and the stories, and the cultures, and the backgrounds, which are different in a serving opportunity. That’s all we do, Toys For Hope. That’s all we do. Our kids come up and serve in the Haiti packaging project. Santa Fe Christian kids and inner-city kids have gone to the beach and cleaned up. They’ve done all sorts of things. We’re talking about this a little bit because it’s come up in a negative way. But I do want to say Santa Fe Christian and our community have been working on this for years now in a positive way with the hope that my third-grader, when he’s a 16-year-old, that we’ve been part of that transformative process in their life just by natural living, normal living and bringing them together in normal experiences. I’m extremely proud to be a parent at Santa Fe Christian. Like I said, this isn’t new. It’s been given a bump with the issues that have come up in our world, but we did start dealing with this from a positive direction first as opposed to hey, it’s a problem now we have to deal with. That’s always better.

Rod Gilbert [00:14:50] That’s wonderful. Well, we’re not editing that out. As the head, part of my job is being a historian. I’m the keeper of the history. Then when I’m gone, the next guy will do that. I love hearing that story. I really appreciate Dr. Bennett’s time here. I think he was here a decade. These things aren’t new. There have been great efforts for several years in different capacities. It has had a bump now, but that’s where we get to be gospel-centered and responsive. It made me tingly excited. This is an arc that goes. I’ve heard your challenge several times that there will be another spike in the next 1 to 10 years. Why would we not want to just be making this a good conversation for it so that the children don’t just take a false perverted narrative from their little smartphone?

Willie Briscoe [00:15:47] Exactly. We need a platform to help the kids of Santa Fe Christian understand that every kid that has a Spanish dialect is not here to clean their house or mow the lawn. That was his opening comment. His goal was we need more unity outside of the parameters of the bubble of Santa Fe Christian.

Rod Gilbert [00:16:18] The stereotypes.

Willie Briscoe [00:16:19] Yeah, the stereotypes. That’s across several different… That was a great opening. We have those kids that are amazing in Hope Leadership Academy. When they’ve been together, there’s none of that. They’re just kids being kids — digging in the sand, and playing football, and everything. It’s amazing.

Rod Gilbert [00:16:38] Childlike is the way to the kingdom.

Willie Briscoe [00:16:40] Yeah, exactly.

Mike Siciliano [00:16:41] Well, you can always bring up Dr. Tom Bennett, our former Head of Schools. He hired me twice. Rod’s hired me zero times. He’s just put up with me.

Rod Gilbert [00:16:49] I inherited Mike. I’m very thankful for that.

Mike Siciliano [00:16:53] It’s a good reminder that I think one of the perceptions of Santa Fe — you’ve brought this up a few times — is that there’s no diversity. Certainly, maybe we’re not as diverse as some other places, but we’ve found in the course of this conversation there are lots of ways in which we are quite diverse.

Rod Gilbert [00:17:13] That’s right. That’s where the GRACE Initiative kicks in. We’ve been playing with the acronym for about a year. Just quickly, G is for gender. We have male and female. R is race, the one we’re talking about; A, ability. There are all kinds of abilities here. Another A is age. We have 5-year-olds up to 18-year-olds. Then, C is culture. There are all kinds of cultures here. Then, E is economic. Twenty-eight percent of the students are on need-based tuition. If children can see that there’s a wide range of looking at all the differences that we have and we have so much in common, it gives us this, like you were saying, larger structure from a kingdom standpoint to see us all so much alike, and we have differences, and it’s good to talk about and healthy to talk about. That’s where that GRACE acronym, I think, will help our community a lot.

Willie Briscoe [00:18:15] I think for our kids we don’t want them to have the idea that they have to go all the way to Africa or all the way to Mexico. There’s enough differences underneath the umbrella of Santa Fe Christian to just hear stories and backgrounds to really expand their horizon and truly have a kingdom mindset. Back to Revelation, that’s God’s vision of the kingdom. So, we should be promoting God’s vision of the kingdom here. We have it. There’s some amazing stories between staff and students alike, coaches, their backgrounds that go across several different cultural and economic as well as different backgrounds. I would like to say, too, that you brought up age in the GRACE analogy there or — excuse me — in the GRACE…

Mike Siciliano [00:19:11] Acronym.

Willie Briscoe [00:19:11] …acronym, yeah. Excuse me.

Rod Gilbert [00:19:13] I couldn’t remember the word, either.

Willie Briscoe [00:19:18] The GRACE acronym. I would just say that what I’ve recognized is that in talking with my kids there is age appropriateness to this conversation.

Rod Gilbert [00:19:31] Well-put.

Willie Briscoe [00:19:32] My daughter as a high school senior is having great conversations around this. She has different issues than… Once again, my son being held out of a kickball game because of the little boy’s comment, for a moment. That’s important to know that we are approaching this in an age-appropriate way. Kids are concrete thinkers at one point. Then they start to be more creative and have an expanding in their thinking. Then we need to meet them there with this issue. We don’t want them, once again, looking on their phone to get the answer to those questions.

Rod Gilbert [00:20:07] I’m glad you emphasized that. For me, I love the writings of John Fowler. I’ve got several teachers reading his work. It’s faith growth. The six stages of faith in his theory — I’ve learned it in seminary — is about age 15 to 20 you’re only at stage 3 in his calculations, which means Mike is in stage 3 1/2. When they graduate from here, they’re not finished products. Sometimes we forget that as teachers and as parents. When I sent Kate off to college, there was a thing in my head: “Well, she’s done.” Oh, my gosh. What she’s learned in her 20s outside of my house is quite phenomenal. It frees me up to say let’s get the structure in place of the basics. Partner with mothers and fathers who were also wanting to have conversations. They are the primary educators and mentors of their children, and then they expect us to help them with that. I really believe in the… The five-year-olds need to understand it from a five-year-old’s standpoint. Middle schoolers need to be challenged a little more because they’re in a different stage of life. Then by the time they’re 18 they really need to understand clearly what’s going on out in the world, all the different things they’re going to hear, to give them a grid to talk about it with a biblical worldview.

Mike Siciliano [00:21:31] Well, I don’t doubt that we could keep kicking this around.

Rod Gilbert [00:21:34] We probably will.

Mike Siciliano [00:21:35] Yeah, we’re going to turn the cameras off and keep rolling.

Rod Gilbert [00:21:39] This has been great.

Mike Siciliano [00:21:39] Yeah. Thank you, Willie, for coming in and for taking such a huge role in helping us with this. We sure appreciate it. As is always the case with this topic, this is just the start. It’s an ongoing discussion, and we’re looking forward to continuing to have it now that we have a little context around how to have it without being so tense all the time.

Willie Briscoe [00:22:05] I agree. Thanks for having me. Like I said, this conversation started a couple of years ago now and even started prior to that with Dr. Bennett. I’m excited to be a part of the transformative process. I’m invested, having my kids here, but I’m also invested just as a Christian community. I’m not only doing this with Santa Fe; I’m also doing it with North Coast Calvary Chapel.

Rod Gilbert [00:22:29] That’s right, with Mark.

Willie Briscoe [00:22:31] Yeah, with Mark and with other schools and other organizations in the area. It’s beautiful to see the Christian community take the lead on this but have some parameters, as you said, and biblical mandate by which we perform these actions by. Excited to speak into it. It definitely won’t be the end.

Rod Gilbert [00:22:49] You’ve been a big help to me, Willie. I really appreciate it.

Willie Briscoe [00:22:51] No, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Mike Siciliano [00:22:53] All right. Well, thank you, and thank you, of course, Rod, as always, for joining us. This has been another episode of our Eagle Perspective Podcast. If it’s your first one, please check out our other ones. We got a bunch. You can find us on Apple Music, or Spotify, or other places where podcasts are available. Just search for Eagle Perspective. Thank you both, and we look forward to seeing you again soon.