The Importance of Community During Times of Distress
When I think of community, I instantly think of my dad. He was a loving, strong, and fearless community organizer. My dad moved to Long Beach, NY from the South during a very turbulent time in history, the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King visited the City of Long Beach on more than one occasion to share his message of hope for the poor, the Vietnam conflict, and the need for all races to come together and work towards what America stands for: democracy, equality, and education. Dr. King paved the way for my dad and others to take on greater responsibilities within their very own community.
My dad, Alonzo Merkerson Sr. and his cousin Simon Portee, were the first African Americans to be hired and sworn into the police force in Long Beach, NY on August 22, 1966. While serving on the police force, he became the first African American to be assigned to the detective division. He received the Nassau Police Conference 1988 Meritorious Award, was part of the crime prevention unit and in 1989, became the first black-uniformed sergeant within the 100-year history of the Long Beach Police Department. My dad served many hours of community service and was a very active member of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in Long Beach during the turbulent Civil Rights Movement in the 60s. He also laid the foundation for the making of the MLK center in Long Beach, NY to come into existence with the help of many dedicated friends who shared his vision of Dr. King’s Dream.
My dad always taught my family and I the importance of giving back to our community. He as well as a team of leaders helped to develop the North Park area in Long Beach, New York during the 1960s. This area was built with the goal of educating and helping African American families obtain home ownership.
My dad’s courage, beliefs, and conviction about the importance of community have shaped me into the individual that I am today. I decided that becoming an educator in the Long Beach School district would be a powerful way to empower not only the African American community, but my entire community as a whole. Throughout my journey of teaching, it has always been my passion to inspire children to dream and become self advocates of their own learning. In addition to helping young people, I wanted to also become an advocate for families and senior citizens. I decided that the best way to accomplish this was to join the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners in Long Beach, New York. Our task is to provide safe affordable housing for community residents, build positive community relationships and ensure compliance with the laws and regulations that govern housing programs.
My passion for housing, families and our seniors means the world to me. During this time of uncertainty I think about their health and well being. I also think of the workers who play an important role in supporting these families day in and day out. Everyone is sticking together and checking on one another. One worker said that he would do all that he can to protect the seniors. I could hear his determination and strong conviction in his voice, that brought me comfort. Our work must continue through Zoom meetings and phone calls. Checking in with one another is what community is all about. We don’t forget the vulnerable and those in need at such a devastating time in our history.
As I sit at my computer during these historic times and gaze off into my thoughts, I reflect on how far we have come as a people, a community and family. Though more work lies ahead of us, we’ve learned so much from fearless leaders who have paved the way for us all. We’ve learned from past tragic events that have taught us the importance of not only survival but sticking together as one. This pandemic is a reminder that even though we are separated from one another, social distancing does not mean social isolation. We as a community are trying our best to support the emotional well-being of all.
Not only is Long Beach my home, but it is where I currently work as an Instructional Coach. I will be heading back to the classroom in September to welcome back students who will need the love and emotional support to weather their future. I’m thrilled to be going back and applying all that I have learned as an instructional coach, especially during this pandemic. I had an opportunity to take a 3-day online virtual workshop offered by Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading & Writing Project. This workshop emphasized the importance of focusing on students and their caregivers while at the same time offering help with immediate goals for virtual instruction. My instructional coach team and I were able to use this valuable information to support teachers as they transitioned to distance learning. As the school year comes to an end I find myself reflecting on past discussions with my team and fellow teachers. After joining together to reimagine what school could look like in the fall, I have a positive outlook for the future, one that is filled with hope.
Teachers are on the front lines along with essential workers working hard to bring a new type of normalcy to what they have always been doing, showing love to families and the students they teach. It has been so encouraging to hear all of the courageous stories that my colleagues have been sharing during this Pandemic. One of the teachers that I work alongside in the district shared such an inspiring story of community. Mrs. Aristy just received a new student from another country, the week of March 9th. Our school district then closed the next week in an abundance of caution due to COVID-19 Corona Virus concerns in New York State. Her main concern was reaching out to every one of her students. She was able to eventually get in contact with the family and offer emotional as well as academic support! Mrs. Aristy’s student was so grateful that she would often tell her, “thank you, God bless you.” Mrs. Aristy also shared how truly grateful the mom was to everyone that has supported her family during this Pandemic including ENL teachers who have reached out to the family to drop off toys and food! Community embraces all cultures, and all families. Community means sticking together during good times as well as difficult and that strong bond can never be broken.
As I continue to reflect on “the concept of” community, I am also inspired at how quickly our school district went into action to create a Distance Learning Plan for grades k-5 students and their families. Under the direction of the Superintendent, my team and I had the privilege of working alongside selected classroom teachers and our assistant superintendent to get this crucial job done. As the clock ticked away early Friday morning, the 13th of March, you could hear the passion of teachers making important decisions for their colleagues and the students they teach. The energy, focus and determination on everyone’s face was something I will always remember and never forget.
The district also reached out to all teachers to see which students needed access to laptops. It was important to make sure that distance learning as well as internet connection was accessible and equitable for all students including their families during this pandemic. Our Technology Director, Mr. Kiley-Rendon, and his team have done an amazing job in making this happen!
As I sit in my living room surrounded by educational books, papers, folders, my doc camera and four small foldable tables holding everything on it, I reflect on the unprecedented times that we are living in. Community now takes on a whole new meaning. Community is keeping us alive. Community is keeping us focused and hopeful. Community embraces all ages no matter what your race or socioeconomic status is. Everyone in some shape or form is being affected by the coronavirus and events in our country that are unfolding before our very eyes. The social-emotional toll is great. I will continue to work hard along with others in supporting students, families and seniors in the Long Beach community. I will also continue to be an advocate for the voices that may feel silenced. We are one community and we will continue to show courage and give encouragement in the face of adversity! We will win this battle and eventually this war!
This article is available and can be accessed in Spanish here.
Polsky, C (2014). LI’s first African-American cops made history seeking ‘steady’ work. Retrieved from https://www.newsday.com/long-island/li-s-first-african-american-cops-made-history-seeking-steady-work-1.7836398.