By Lindsay Schambach, Imagine Executive Director
In honor of Black History Month, I want to share more love and light with you from our collective work and our mission.
Prior to my time here at Imagine, I was a teacher to some of the most amazing children in the city of Newark. Each year, as Black History month approached, stories of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Maya Angelou, and countless others filled our shelves and our hallways. We hosted speakers, many experts in their fields. We learned famous speeches and practiced orating like the greats who came before us. We did our best to bring this history to life as demonstrations of every day people who followed their hearts and acted with courage despite the fear they felt. As I grew in my career, Black History Month, instead of being a month, became the culmination of year long exposure to excellence. When I became a Principal, first of an elementary school, then of a high school, my young people taught me that they are making black history every day, through their words, their choices, and their actions, and that they are creating the future we want to see. This became true each year at high school graduation as college acceptances rolled in and my students were choosing colleges and careers for their futures.
So today, I share with you, not stories of the past, but stories of our present, and how interconnected we all are. I began my teaching career in the city of Newark over 17 years ago at two of the lowest performing schools in the city at a time of educational crisis. At the time, textbooks were old and desks were mismatched. My school was steeped in history and legacy, filled with loving and committed teachers and students, but was underperforming academically, to say the least. At the time, my father, just 51 years old, was diagnosed with a glioblastoma, and to keep him active and cared for, he often traveled with me to Newark, and sat in the back of my classroom to watch his daughter flounder as a first year teacher.
In November, just three short months after my arrival, and about 60 days of teaching under my belt, my father’s disease took over his body and he passed away. I was devastated, having never experienced pain like this before. My colleagues, my students and their families traveled from Newark to Bridgewater, to stand beside me at his wake and funeral. Although they were just getting to know me, they knew my pain and they knew that it deserved to be recognized. They held me, their teacher, in a loving space, to let me know that my loss mattered, and I was forever indebted.
As a young person, before my father died, I admit what I saw was everything the school community lacked: books, curriculum, consistent teachers. After his death, I witnessed all that this beautiful city, and my school community, had to offer. I saw the light, the sense of community, the understanding and caring for others, and the ability to come together to overcome all obstacles. I committed myself to supporting and building upon what we had to create a brighter future together.
A few years later, I became a principal in our city and hoped to make good on my promises to create a space where children and families had choices, and where we worked together towards a collective future. Over the years, my school grew from 100 – 550 children, and we began to build a legacy. One student in particular, Marquet and his mother, will be with me forever. In 2014, Marquet’s father died. Marquet was 7 years old, a 1st grader. His father was the first to sign up for parent teacher conferences; the first at school each morning; the kind of man who never forgot lunch money and double checked homework each night. I remember receiving the call from his mother, while Marquet was with me in school. I drove Marquet home from school that day, and sat with his mother as we explained what had happened. This was a first for me, sharing the death of a parent with a child. I took Marquet out to give mom time and space and to provide moments for Marquet to grieve. I prepared with Marquet and mom for the funeral services and our school community wrapped Marquet and mom up, and held them with love. I had learned from the best of them, that had come before me, that had done the same for me when I was a young teacher. Of course, Mom feared all that Marquet would miss and what the impact of his father’s death would be. I am proud to say that today, Marquet continues to be an honor roll student and stellar athlete at Don Bosco, and an all around loving young man, thanks to the love and support of his mother and his community.
In 2018, when I had to tell my own son that his father was dying, I thought about Marquet and his mother, about their strength and courage. I drew upon their strength, but now, having lived it myself, I realize how much more I could have done for them. After experiencing Imagine, I knew that our city of Newark deserves this too! A center for grief that will allow our children to continue to flourish; to support families and allow children to reach their fullest potential. In our schools, in Newark, like elsewhere, in our day to day lives in the midst of loss and tragedy, grief gets tucked away. It is dealt with in the wee hours, in private, on bus rides, car rides, in the bathroom, at midnight, in moments of stress, as competing demands like the rigorous academics take center stage. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I imagine a center, like our one in Mountainside, that proudly serves all Newark residents. Without moments and opportunities to truly mourn, to find community in our losses, our grief can be overlooked, which can lead to being traumatized. We know how transformational finding community can be and grief is as lonely as we allow it to be. We are proud to serve Newark and are committed to the work of creating a space for grief in the city of Newark. Thank you to all of our brilliant partners doing this work every day!
If you are interested in learning more about and supporting this work, as always, we welcome you.
Yours in love and light,