This is for all of us who "come alive" and feel like we find our purpose in community work -- for those of who know it's where we belong --
September 3 2016
“This is one place I belong,” I thought, guiding the new family from Tajikstan to the classroom at the end of a hallway, a journey that started for them by stepping onto a train or into an airplane, and is now taking one more stop at our school’s Open House, and the doorway of Ms Riche's fourth grade class.
“They have been here for one week only,” the father explains, a huge, smiling man, waving toward his wife and daughter, “The English not yet, not yet.”
“But you are here,” I respond, gesturing to the classroom door, “so now it can begin. It can start.” I return his broad smile, keep a happy face,
make eye contact with all three.
“Yes,” he says, “now start.”
Inside the doorway, Chingis's mom, who arrived from Mongolia last May, enormously pregnant, and is now standing behind her stroller, silent, watching. Beside her, Jamal, who arrived from Pakistan in April and, with daily tutoring, passed the science SOL in June, earning him a place in Gifted Services. This was a goal of mine the first day we met, when, after touring the school, I asked him if he had any more questions. Most kids don’t. Everything is so new – what else would there be to know? Lunch codes, library check-out, gym shoes – that can wait until tomorrow.
Jamal did have a question: he wanted to know about the development of the atomic bomb. His conversational English was perfect, but he’d missed all the science that would be on the SOL, and he needed to pass to get onto the gifted track in middle school, which I knew would make a difference as he entered high school. We crammed on rock cycles, molecules, ocean floors. After he passed the 5th grade test, he asked to start preparing for the one he’ll take in 8th.
Also in the room: The kids from Ethiopia, 5th graders with their little siblings, hugging old friends. The mom from Guatemala who joined us on a trip to the public library, stunned by the notion of borrowing, drop-in ESOL classes, free computer use, story time for her toddler. A market square over flowing not with fruits and fabrics, but knowledge, possibilities, access. Roberto, who arrived at nine without any schooling. We started with the ABCs. He’s an artist and dancer, a star performer. A loving family. But no phonics, no knowledge of numeracy. Classwork is beyond his reach. Still, anything’s possible.
And that’s why I belong here. Here, there’s a place for my belief that “anything is possible.” My allegiance to possibility and my bone-knowing that this belief is critical finds purpose. I am of a wide community of people who have enough to eat and travel and furnish their homes, and who enthusiastically embrace the lens of change for personal growth and potential, which I love. But we don’t need our positive focus to make it through another day. For us, another day will come. For the kids in my school, it will come, but not easily. My allegiance makes it easier.
Some call this school “the world in a zip code.” We’re tucked between the last remaining affordable housing units in our suburb. All the students walk from these complexes, as there are enough apartments to fill the five grades to capacity. It’s a moment in time. This will change, as housing demands will make it change. I can only focus on now.
Now, I will work with this nine-year old who left that nation north of China to settle in one of these apartments, across from the 7-11. I will work with Maria, whose file says the 5th grader left El Salvador in the spring, spent the summer at a holding center in San Antonio and arrived here in August. And with Carlos, who was flown here alone last September to join a family of unknown cousins, a choice his family in Honduras made for his safety. He still does not speak, though I know he listens. One day, perhaps, he can say what he remembers.
These are people who left their homes – or sent their children away -- because anything is possible. It might be bad, it might be great. This is why I belong here. My challenges don’t compare, but my belief in possibility does. These kids come to a place with so many doors -- so many that open, so many locked. They stand there, believing, knocking, knowing they cannot turn away. Knowing they must try. Here, because I believe, at least I can show them how to stop waiting for the door to be opened, and instead fit their small hands around the knob and give a turn.
- Sarah Priestman
It Takes a Village
On Thursday, June 23rd Be the Change NJ held a fundraiser at 10th Street Live Bar and Grill in Kenilworth, New Jersey, and I was lucky enough to be apart of it. The director of Be The Change, Norma, and the board members planned the event with Kevin, one of the co-owners of 10th Street Live. A member of Be The Change, Brittany, was generous enough to find the entertainment for the night. My role for the event was to promote it, which I did through social media, flyers and a Facebook event.
Summertime Kick off for Change
Finally, the night came. I walked in and was excited to see the turn out. 10th Street Live looked awesome and everyone was energetic, sharing hugs and laughs. Members, family members, locals, and friends all were in attendance. After Norma introduced herself, Be the Change, and our cause, the night began. Between dancing, singing, drinking, eating, talking, playing beer pong everyone was pumped to be there amongst family. This event was not only a fun night for all who attended, it was rewarding for Be The Change members to hang out and have a good time in a more relaxed and fun environment despite everyone’s busy schedules. The event also gave everyone an opportunity to meet new people and get to know other members and their families.
Talent, Talent, Talent!
The live performers were entertaining, playing originals and covers alike. We even had some brave souls get up on stage and sing or talk about their own causes. Shackelia Jackson, shared her personal, yet moving story about her brother, which she lost in 2014 in Jamaica. She launched her website: Broken, Not Destroyed. This kick started our Go Fund Me page to donate for an upcoming trip to Jamaica, to create a memory garden in remembrance of her brother.
I definitely enjoyed myself as I was honored to be apart of something that was not only charitable, but fun as well. This event gave me a chance to get to know Be the Change members on a more personal level. My grandparents and my mom also showed up to support the cause and learn more about Be the Change. It was a rewarding experience to see all of the planning myself and everyone else did come to life.
Overall, the event was a success. We raised over $700 for our Peace Gardens, which help prevent crime, and provide resources for people who live in the surrounding neighborhood of the garden. Not only did we fundraise money for an amazing cause, everyone enjoyed a great night together! Be the Change is very involved in numerous initiatives and projects, and I am thrilled to be apart of it now and in the future!
Want to get involved?
Facebook: Be The Change-Kean University
Special Thanks to:
Director, Dr. Norma Bowe
Public Relations Intern, Melissa Naylor
Entertainment Recruiter, Brittany Holley & Kelly Heaton
Co-Owner of 10th Street Live, Kevin Bryan
All performers and all that donated!
A Call for Change:
Imagine looking out of your bedroom window and seeing a half torn down hospital building with rubble hanging from all sides. Well, this was the view of a young boy that lives on Myrtle Ave in Newark, New Jersey.
After hearing an inspirational presentation about Be The Change, a woman approached Dr. Norma Bowe at a Fortune Builders event. She asked Dr. Bowe if Be The Change could transform a lot on Myrtle Avenue in Newark. The woman recieved Dr. Bowe's favorite famous answer, “yes,” and Be The Change began planning.
Creating Community Change in One Day:
After members of the group surveyed the lot they knew that gathering a large team would be the only way to make real transformation happen. At first, the group feared the lot would not be addressed before the cold weather hit. After posting the event multiple times on social media, volunteers started to sign up. A fraternity group said, “Yes we will send a couple of our guys!” Next, a couple of other volunteers joined and said “what’s the address, I’ll be there.” This great news locked in the project.
Dr.Bowe and a small team went to Home Depot to pick up supplies. They were gifted with a $75 gift card from the generous people at Home Depot in Edison, NJ. Paint, ply wood, paint brushes, garbage bags, and rocks filled the back of a volunteer’s truck. And so, on Sunday September 27th approximately 28 volunteers gathered in the lot with bagels, coffee, and a mission.
The guys began mowing the lawn and the rest of the group began picking up trash. After several bags of trash were towed away, transformation began. Tires were painted with messages of inspiration and hope. Mums and pumpkins were placed in the center of the lot with clean soil. A bench for the elderly women that frequent the garden was placed near the flower beds. A beautiful mural with our simple yet powerful message “Be The Change” was created. The brown fence that surrounded the lot was painted white and covered in bright colored flowers and stems.
One corner of the lot was filled with weeds and garbage. After it was cleared the group discovered a pile of rocks. Unsure of what to do with the rocks, volunteers began writing things like ‘love, peace and hope.’ The pile became a piece of colorful artwork for the community.
Soon people were walking by complimenting and commending the work that was being done. A woman with her small toddler in a stroller walked by; the little girl screamed “I like it!”
Next, another woman was bringing candy, cold drinks, and even pizza for the entire group! Everyone was humbled and grateful for these responses.
Whenever Be The Change completes a project the physical space is never the same. It has more hope, more love, more peace, and more inspiration. On this day, Be The Change left a hand print on Myrtle Avenue. The volunteers gave the gift of transformation to the little boy that once looked out his window and only saw rubble and chaos.