She was one black face in a sea of white.

In 1895, Mary McLeod Bethune was the only African American to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. In her class photo, there is one face that does not match.

I wonder how difficult it was for her—then named Mary McLeod—to be the only student attending evangelist D. L. Moody’s Bible school whose parents were slaves. Bethune was a pioneer, determined to get an education and become a missionary in Africa.

She forged her way in a predominantly white world, only to be rejected as a missionary to Africa (due to her race) following graduation. Bethune pushed forward, starting a school for girls, founding a college, and advising Presidents on various issues.

As I read her story, I realize that it is impossible for me to relate.

Certainly, as a woman, I have faced challenges. I have struggled to be taken seriously at times. I’ve sat in meetings surrounded by men in suits and ties. I’ve been asked to give the “female” perspective and nominated to chair policy development on sexual harassment. Yet, I don’t really know what it means to be without the natural advantages I have been given because I am white.

I doubt “white privilege” was brought up when Bethune was the lone African American student at Moody. Even now, people balk at the phrase, wanting to deny that such a phenomenon could apply to an entire race of people. After a flyer for a student-led event on race and privilege was defaced at Moody last week, Moody’s president released a statement affirming the event, decrying the misunderstanding of white privilege, and addressing the need for more ethnic diversity on campus.

He wrote, “People who ...

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