It doesn't seem that long ago when I was a just a mere mild mannered Dad. Caught up in the routine of life and honestly content with the average every day happenings of the norm. Wake up, get ready for work, feed the dog, kiss the wife and son goodbye, tackle a day at the office, TV and repeat the next day. My normal 9-5 gig is as a Community Outreach Coordinator writing grants and developing programming for school aged children in my community. Pair that with being an entrepreneur Chef, active father, husband, soccer Dad, small business owner and involved member of my community of Newark for over 35 years, lent to very little time for much else. Getting the occasional night on the town with my wife and friends or to actually sit and catch up on my DVR was the highlight of the week.
I was brought up in a home where Dad was the bread winner and main role was to make sure we had a roof over our head, food on the table and clothing on our backs. huge tasks to bare on one's shoulders. There was very little time for what dads are involved in now. Hands on raising of the family, supporting a spouse who also works, cooking, cleaning and so on. While Dad was my biggest hero growing up, as I became an adult and started a family of my own, I vowed to go even further than just being that " bread winning dad." I wanted to be involved more! I always made time for getting not only myself but the family involved in the community. From the Arts, to Environmental Issues and to Education I have always dedicated time and efforts. Being raised 4th generation in the community to immigrant families, Newark was always a beacon of hope for possibilities for great things. My family hails from a long line of Newarkers who have and still to this day work tirelessly for the city ranging from Teachers to Law Enforcement to Fire Department personnel. I have always prided myself in being informed...in touch and in turned with the happenings and issues of my city. So I thought and would find...I was sadly mistaken.
My wife Maryann & I have always been active and proactive parents in our son Matthew's life and specifically his education from the moment he stepped foot through the doors of his first learning institution at age 1 1/2 at a Great Expectations facility. He has been an Honor Roll student since he was able to receive letter grading at the Elementary School level. Courses in STEM and Mandarin Chinese where not uncommon for our son. As a family, we committed to ensuring Matthew would be exposed to a great educational experience here within the city we love and were raised. My wife and I saw a growth and a optimistic future for our son as a new vision for the city had taken place. A renaissance ... revitalization and we wanted to be part. You see for 3 years back in 2007, my family decided lets try living outside of the city of Newark. Crime had risen somewhat and our families had moved to the Jersey shore-lined areas. We gave it a shot. Needless to say as true Newarkers...we moved back to our city and our son was happy to be back in the city he really knew and loved That's where our affinity truly was. Things were the best they could be. We became even more so involved in community within the city, as a family. My son was enrolled in my Elementary School Alma Mater in which my entire family and over 4 generations of my family proudly attended and graduated from. I myself returned back to Culinary School at 36 after 15 years of Public Relations and Operations experiences, becoming a catering chef and also doing Community Relations and Grant Writing for a local non-profit community group.
Sure as many of the Urban Public Schools across the country revamping, reform and a renewal of the current public educational school system was needed and is not up for debate with majority of parents anyone speaks to. You wouldn't get much of an argument from most urban families such as families who reside in Newark. In over 20 years of being stripped of our local control, we have seen as residents and tax payers a decrease in budgets, improvements and facilities. It was thrilling to hear Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of social media mega application Facebook even donated over $100 million to our Newark Public School system. Encouraging...hopeful. In addition, a rise in a new breed of super schools where curriculum was to be the best in the nation. Facilities that are state of the art bathed in technology. It was like some one had came down and answered a call to us parents. These "super schools" we know now today as the Charter School Movement.
Our eyes were being opened to a whole new world of possibilities for our children. The city encouraged families especially in underprivileged areas, which is basically the majority as our city is built on the backs of low to middle class hard working people. It was a new path for the future of our children many could not afford to pay for. We were sold a concept of better standards and a better life for our children. Who could resist. In the Summer of 2013 my wife and I even started to receive daily multiple phone calls from new charter schools advising us our son Matthew was a pre approved student and asked to come speak with admission intake specialists at the schools. As proud parents we started to do our research in these new schools being spawned all over the city. The more research we did, the more we found them to start raising red flags to my wife and myself. Public funding being shared with our public schools that have been woven into the fabric of our city's culture and dollars per child being lost to privately ran charter schools. Public buildings being sold right from under tax payers noses. It was almost ripped from the pages of a Orsen Welles novel. An invasion on our schools. Yet, I like many others turned a blind eye as it meant choice for those who may not be awarded many choices. To me at the time, it just made sense even if it was a choice I wouldn't personally make with my family.
In Fall 2013, right around Halloween as the kids began to buzz about what they wanted to get dressed up as and how much candy they would get, was all that seemed to be the worry and on the minds of the over 250 families throughout the city who I spoke to and came in contact with through my job and relationship with the community. Little did we all know that our lives as we knew it would all change. Not for the better but for the worse. Our public school system would be invaded and an assault on the Newark community was being launched unbeknownst to the citizens, voters and parents in Newark.
Governor of NJ, Chris Christie had just confirmed against public protest he would be reinstating an appointed (not voted upon by the citizens of Newark) Superintendent Cami Anderson. I have had the experience of meeting Ms. Anderson at several Advisory School Board meetings and community related events. I was awarded by her as a Recognized Parent in my district. Her reputation for being non-approachable to parents in the community in which she was appointed held up. Unwelcoming for a person employed to care for the welfare of my child. I was not alone in this feeling toward Anderson. It was almost majority and overwhelming in the city. There were even legal filings made for her removal. Christie rejected the cries of his constituents protests about Anderson being given more tenure as the appointed Newark Superintendent of schools with bold statements such as "We’re going to renew it because she’s done a great job, and I don’t care about the community criticism," Christie said. "We run the school district in Newark, not them." http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2013/09/christie_to_newark_we_run_the_school_district.html
Shortly after the Governor's reappointment of Anderson, chatter and rumors of an ominous plan started being spread in the Newark Community. Rumor had it Anderson was launching a plan that would require parents and students to now pre enroll their children into an application process and based on parameters of the application your child will be told where in Newark they would be able to attend school. I believe at that time I even made statements like "not going to happen!"and "just rumors that's absurd!" Boy was I naive and wrong.
Immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday, what I would have called "just rumors and absurd" would leap from the pages of most conspiracy theorists as the dawning of the invasion of the privatization of our Newark Public Schools.
Fliers were distributed in the community and public meetings were being held across the city in protest of what was being called Anderson's "Universal Enrollment/ One Newark plan." The title now is anything but a rallying for ONE NEWARK. Little to no details were given to administration, to schools, to teachers, to parents, to students, to tax payers or citizens. There were no public meetings looking for taxpayer and parents input. As a Community Outreach Coordinator I was in the loop of communications regarding the city and issues impacting our residents and families. Nothing was sent asking for any public input on a large scale. Only a very selective few that represents a minority of the city.
As the 2013 Holiday Season rolled in, I received word that at our next Advisory Board meeting in December, Superintendent Anderson would be reviewing what her One Newark Plan would entail. So on December 17, 2013 I packed up my desk early and attended the meeting at Park Ave Elementary. When I pulled up to the school all I could see were the blue and red flashing lights of police vehicles. A sea of squad cars lined the front of the school. As I drove past, I could not help but wonder, what was I in store for. This would be the day my life as a normal average everyday Dad would be changed forever. After waiting in line to get in and finding a seat next to a few parents I knew, I began to hear the conversations from those who attend the monthly meetings and was horrified how budgets were being slashed, teachers being muzzled and threatened with their jobs, students and parents totally shut out of the process.
As the meeting went on and Anderson and the Advisory Board members took their seats...the sounds of booing and hisses filled the auditorium. Anderson attempted to show her plan to the audience but was stopped in her tracks as the audience refused to listen to her. It seems she has tried this before and failed miserably and the public felt it now was too late. Our Advisory Board President had to have the presentation done by someone other than Anderson just so it can be completed. As I followed along the polished PowerPoint slideshow I almost felt as if I was trapped in a bad 1950s vintage video segment on school segregation and civil rights injustice. The plan had a ill effect on public schools who's history enriched our city for many generations in way of many school closures who will reopen, be renewed, revised as privatized educational facilities or simply shut down. There was high alarm of segregation of largely populated ESL and special needs students, transportation and safety issues as well as an outcry of community resentment towards this plan. Here I thought I was involved and committed to assisting my community and I felt lost and left in dark. How did I not know all this was happening write underneath me! How did I fail the families I serviced and not proactively inform them of this months earlier so they can be informed or educated on this new plan? How...because the community and leaders in the community were not asked to be involved by our Governor, Education Commissioner nor our Superintendent. The meeting ended on a sour note and I headed home...in shock and awe! Devastated in having to break the news to my family, friends and the families I serve in the community. As if a wound had been ripped open and not able to heal and the city began to hemorrhage. I got home unloaded hand full of fliers that were handed to me with lists of school closures many in which I had friends and family who's children attended these schools and I knew they had no idea.To my left a fiery parent sat next to me. Throughout the meeting she would educate me on the issues and information that needed to be said and heard. She was very vocal and outspoken about issues and what actions needed to happen from residents across the city. Little did I know that this woman sitting next to me was a true leader in the efforts to return Newark back to the people. This woman was Mrs. Donna Jackson. From that moment a fire in me was parked, I needed to get educated and involved quickly. How would I begin to explain this to my friends and family? How would I explain to my son what was going on? I returned home fired up and sat my family down and explained to them the details of what would be rolling out to us. My family just as I was shocked and confused. So we decided to start arming ourselves with information almost immediately.
As with most of us today, the feeling of if you cant find it on Google or the internet...it just does not exist. Well there was very little to no information on Anderson's One Newark plan. So in true fashion of someone who is a big proponent of social media, my wife and I created a Facebook page called Parents Against One Newark Plan and it was launched on December 18, 2013. We began to pull and post information and invited our network of friends to join, visit, subscribe and share the information as they saw fit. With in days a few likes turned to hundreds and with in a weeks time we had close to 700 followers of our page. The people in our community were starving for information. We started informing our friends and getting them involved in our movement. A movement that was already developing behind the scenes for years by other informed community residents, parents, students and community organizations. Our goal of our page to funnel the information for parents to go to one page to obtain the information they needed to be educated in the One Newark plan and to expose the plan to the masses of the Newark, NJ and the nation. The more we dug...the more we found disturbing information as well as that this was happening to Public Education in cities such as New Orleans, Chicago, Paterson, Jersey City and growing exponentially. Fast and furious! The creation of our page led parents involved with us in Parents Against One Newark to reach contacts to aid us in our movement.
Almost initially we were connected to the founders of the Save Our Schools New Jersey non-profit grassroots organization and put in touch with a great gentleman by the name of Hassan Manning a gentleman who was doing great ground work almost simultaneously across town to us starting our Facebook page. Hassan was leading a petition door to door in the city to pass legislation to restore local control and the stop forced public Schools closure created by Senator Ron Rice. Just in one day alone Hassan was able to get about 600 signatures of folks who joined his fight. We were connected and decided to join forces as one team to lead a movement to get parents and the community educated and made aware. It was a unison and kinship that would transcend just the topic we were introduced by. Within 2 weeks our page was pushing over 1k in followers and reaching over 20k news feeds nationwide! The petition was launched online and within days grew to signatures in the thousands.
HEY CAMI...LEAVE OUR KIDS ALONE! WATCH OUR NPU " BRICKS" VIDEO!
We traded in countless hours of free idle time, soccer practices, dance recitals, going out socializing, for research, rallies, meetings, legislative caucuses, educational hearings, school meetings, community meetings and organizing. By late January we were asked to help introduce legislature in the state alongside of sponsors Senator Ron Rice and Senator Turner for the Stop Force Public Schools Closure Act and attend several legislative hearings regarding the state of our education in Newark. Our following on our page grew to close to 2k by start of February 2014 and showing up in over 40k news feeds across the country. Since our page creation in December, our followers have asked us for help with other child/parent issues. With great honor, we recognized our role and duty to help other parents in need so we transitioned our page and movement to the Newark Parents Union in March of 2014. The page continues to address our main platform Parents Against One Newark as well as other advocacy issues. We have over 2,300 followers and growing daily. Newark Parents Union is followed by some of the top educational experts and bloggers in our area and the nation. We have also teamed up with great communities organizations such as New Jersey Communities United to help support the Newark Parents Union.
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In most recent days, I have almost been transformed from a mild mannered Dad of normally working routine, soccer Dad, walking the dog, cooking, cleaning, laundry, carpooling the kids around and being a self proclaimed TV fanatic to trading in the remote for rallies at the Statehouse, Senate and Assembly vote sessions, educational research, Parent Town hall panels, community informational sessions. Its almost as if I have an alter ego that would make even Clark Kent leap from his tights. Speaking with Senators and elected officials have now become the norm. Marches and demonstrations and a commitment to my community. Press releases and statements. My face in the local papers and on the news. It seems like in a blink of an eye the life I knew then is no more. I am not that same dad I was on December 17, 2013.
From the very launch of NPU and early on as PAON, its been a challenge! From the day I hit create page on my FB page manager...its been a shark frenzy. As we grew...the sharks get bigger as well as their appetite. They have all shown their true colors behind closed doors or secret inboxes. I can write a nice little book with some of the communications I receive on a daily basis. Everyone is not who they appear to be! It would blow your mind! Same people who talk about unity, organizing and trust are the same ones who have agendas and who have failed parents and voters. I intend to hold them all accountable. I don't mind being a mouth or calling people out! If people only knew the real deal it would blow your mind! Strike 1...Strike 2...next time its strike 3 at the old ball game! How much will parents and voters be deceived? This Dad will prevent it from happening as much as possible. Luckily I work with a great team of parents who share the same vision. We are growing tremendously and will continue to do so in our mission! We will not be led by others...we will steer our own ship! Take our own bumps and bruises that will make us stronger.
This blog is for those parents, not just Dads, who are in the fight for their kids and hopefully readers will find the journey and transformation of an average dad to a more "Modern Day Dad" exciting. It is in itself been just that a cathartic transformation and I look forward to having you all on this journey with me into the CHRONICLES OF A MODERN DAD.
Until next time...