I will NEVER EVER, in my life give back to Newark! I am a Newark-er. I was born here. My family and friends have been birthed and killed here! I teach here! I love this place. Yet – I will never give back to Newark!
Just a few weeks ago I was asked to sit on a panel to speak with students of the Newark Community about being a young black professional. I arrived early, as I do to all things that I participate in, and I spent the first hour mingling and getting to know the other panelist. They are a truly great group of people! One worked for Google, the other had already run for political office (he was younger than I am now), another was a community organizer with 10 + years of experience and there were more.
As we concluded our conversation, we were invited into the hall that would host the ceremony. The food was brought out and the crowd started to build. Each person representing a small portion of the great city we call Newark. Soon after, the introductions were given and the discussion began. Many questions were asked. Questions ranged from what our day to day activity looks like, what our future aspirations are and why we choose to give back to Newark. And that’s what I want to talk about. Why, in that moment in time, I publicly decided and publicly declared that I will NEVER EVER give back to Newark!
“Why do you choose to give back?” the moderator asked.
After the 3 microphones were shuffled around a bit, someone mustered up the courage to go first. It was the young aspiring politician.
After he spoke, the community organizer moved the crowd. And her words were better than good!
I was next. I had finally gotten the microphone in my hands and this is what I said.
“Why do I give back? I don’t! When I was about nine years old. I had a life altering experience.”
I cleared my throat. I knew that I was about to get personal and into the hearts of those listening. I continued.
“After living in multiple shelters, sleeping in a park, an abandoned building and another assisted living situation, my mother decided that there was no way that she could properly raise and feed all six of her children. Dad wasn’t around. But that’s common in this environment right?. Most of your dads are not around now. However, there was a couple that we had met at the church that we attended and they could not have children of their own (I’ll explain that in another post). I don’t know how the deal was made, and I don’t know who pitched the idea to who, but this couple was going to become the new parents of my younger brother and myself. We were going to live with them. We were going to report to their house everyday after school. We were going to be their sons, and them, our parents. It was a drastic change. Prior to living with them, I literally had only the clothes on my back. Once I moved in with them, I could have anything that I desired, as long as my grades were up to par; and they always were. Because of them, I am the first person in my family to graduate from a four year University. I am an author. I am a math teacher. I am a mentor and personal tutor. I wear a bow tie, carry a briefcase , and I spend my days in the classroom as a math teacher. One day soon, I even plan on opening a school of my own. I am 25 years old.
But what does this story have to do with me not giving back to Newark? I am already giving back to Newark, right? WRONG!
I’m giving forward to Newark. My mother and my new parents made a proactive decision, not a reactive one. This means that someone thought about me enough to give me what they knew I needed, before I needed it. They gave forward and I am the result of that giving forward. And that’s why I will never give back to Newark. Newark needs more giving forward!
Yes Newark is a city riddled with crime and law breaking citizens. It is also filled with people who can solve really complex riddles that are law abiding citizens. We don’t need to give to our city in response to the bad that happens in our community, we need to give to our city because it needs to be done! It’s a mind shift. My parents gave forward to me and I was able to beat alarming odds. I want that for all of my brothers and sisters in this city. Better yet, I want those alarming odds to never exist again. Frederick Douglass, the most intelligent black man to place foot on these hallowed grounds stated, “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men “. And he was right. Building is a proactive activity, while repairing is a reactive one. We need to be proactive about the lives of these children and the future life of our community. I don’t give back, I give forward! And you should too!.
As a teacher, the largest issue that I run into day in and day out, is not that my students are incapable of doing the work. It’s not that my students are incapable of paying attention or comprehending. Although things things are true for some of my students, the largest problem that they do not see a future for themselves! Most of them do not work hard today because they do not see how it will directly impact their lives tomorrow. But giving forward changes that! It opens the minds and hearts of students to see a future worth living. In Newark, and the thousands of other mid sized cities across this country, it is easier to get into trouble than it is to stay out of trouble. (most kids naturally want whats easier.) Paired with the apathy towards the things that promise a better life (education, discipline, work ethic, drive etc.), it’s not difficult to see why they get into trouble so frequently. As a result, we, the community, make reactive decisions (as oppose to proactive decisions) to try to re-mediate the situations. What we should actually be doing is taking preventive measures to prevent these future leaders from getting into trouble at all. This requires showing them where they can go. ( I know easier said than done right?) This requires us to give forward to them now!
Life taught me this during my first year of college. In my calculus class, every student in my had taken calculus in high school. All of them except me. If your math interest level is below the point where you will get excited about the derivatives, I dare you to try and learn them in an hour long class. If you survive the hour, you may have learned a whopping nothing. I’ve learned that people travel in the direction where our hearts meets our heads. My heart was in the math, although my head could not comprehend it. But because I knew that, at that time I wanted to be an Actuary, I studied Youtube videos daily, and I passed the class with the same grades as those that had taken Calculus in high school. Heart and head! Without any prior knowledge, if you see a need and/ or purpose for the material you are learning (perhaps because you see that you have a future where you could use it), you can teach yourself. It’s how I passed my first Calculus class freshman year at Rider University. Because someone gave forward to me, I learned to give forward in all that I do – not give back! It worked for me and I am sure that it will work for Newark.