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Cultural Resident: Determining cultural impact through residential and intellectual mindset
Merriam-Webster defines a resident as “. . . serving in a regular or full-time capacity”. Meaning. Moreover, visitor is defined as, “One who makes formal visits of inspection.”
As an instructional leader and teacher in the GREAT city-state of Newark, I’ve had the privilege to educate, impact and inspire hundreds of students from my community. From random grocery store run-ins to being ambushed with hugs while out at brunch with my family, the love I receive from my students is unparalleled. It is part of what makes teaching one of the most rewarding positions in existence. However, in some recent conversations with co-workers, I realized this is not the experience of some other educators across our country as they determine if they are a cultural resident or cultural visitor.
It was always a great moment to tell my students that I was from Newark and still lived in the area. There was something to the narrative that the girl who attended West Side High on South Orange Avenue came back to teach in the community, which helped cultivate her educational mindset. And after purchasing a home in a neighboring town, I’ve come to realize that I have prioritized being a full-time teacher as well as a full-time resident of my community. I am still frequenting many of the same stores and other businesses, so I am still seeing so many of my students.
What does this mean for me? It means in addition to teaching and serving my school for 8 hours a day; there is a significant amount of town moving through the community contributing in another way. It means I am prioritizing patronizing small businesses in our city while also understanding the dynamics of a city still feeling the effects of the Newark Riots some 60 years later. It means knowing the best lunch spots and always knowing the answer to the question of “Is there anything good to eat around here?” It means knowing how to navigate the city without using my Waze app. It means being a part of a community and not just contributing to its success during the hours of 8 am – 3 pm.Cultural Resident or Cultural Visitor – How do you identify? Click To Tweet
Living in the Community
Now I acknowledge that in some cities and states, living in the community you serve may not be possible. Most recently, in San Francisco, the city broke ground on a housing project that shows favor to the city's educators by setting aside units for educators specifically. This was done to combat the rising home prices in San Francisco and provide educators with a way to live in the communities they serve. Newark, NJ, has done something similar. Hoping that teachers and others who serve the community have the ability to live within its borders.
There is also the argument that perhaps a spouse’s job contributes to not living in the community. It can also be childcare issues, better school districts, maintaining the childhood residences, or just feeling more connected to a community. That all makes perfect sense to me! It is, however, inconsequential to the point I am making in this article.
Even after leaving the community and buying a home at its borders, I still very intentionally behave as a resident of Newark in mindset. Even at this moment, I write in a café in Newark. (Owned by a black woman) I could have just as easily gone to Panera or Starbucks (Which I sometimes do! No shade), I know that to be and to continue to progress as a thriving city – my patronage is needed. And so, I look for places to fulfill that mission. I chose to immerse myself in the city I worked so hard to find a teaching job within.
When examining its definition, resident means “regular or full-time capacity.” While to visit is usually associated with abbreviated periods of time or my favorite Webster definition, “…officially inspect or oversee”. So regardless of your resident or visitor status, ask yourself …
Am I serving, or am I overseeing?
Quite simply, are you working to improve the place you have chosen to work, or are you directing others to do the hard work building (or, in some cases, rebuilding) our community? Are you telling students you care about them as people and never knowing anything about them outside of the four walls of your class? Are you praising the wonders of the world in the textbooks but not reminding them of the wonder that exists just a few blocks over a local library or museum? Are you helping them see themselves in the world? To do that means you understand their world and are able to apply it to the rest of humanity.Cultural Resident or Cultural Visitor – How do you identify? Click To Tweet
Ok … so what does this actually mean in a real-world context? How do you move to become a resident in regard to physical placement? Well, that’s complicated. Are you able to afford to live in the town/city you work in? Are there places within its borders you feel comfortable calling home? (I would never encourage moving to someplace you aren’t comfortable) Do you WANT to live there? If the answers are yes, then call up your local real estate agent and make moves toward the transition. And, if the answer is no to one or more of these questions, then I would suggest becoming a resident in mindset.
Cultural Resident Mindset
This one is so much easier and could prove to be a lot of fun! As you can potentially discover a city that you have not otherwise explored. What does this look like? I would suggest a few simple things:
- Research major cultural reference points outside of major sports team venues. This could include local museums, libraries, or parks. Once you have found where they are, check out some of the upcoming events! How cool is it to tell your students that the public library is having a pop-up book fair, and you are going to be buying books for the first three students who find her there?
- Visit the city’s resource page or website. Take a look at the happenings! Is there a carnival in the local park? A monument dedication or a restaurant opening. Go check it out! Or, at the very least, discuss it with your kids!
- Discuss and make connections to people from the community. This one is always fun. Just Google celebrities from the city or little-known facts. As a Newark resident, I know that all kinds of fun folks hail from Newark! Whitney Houston
- Whitney Houston
- Lauryn Hill
- Shaquille O’Neill
- Dana Owens (Queen Latifah)
- Jason Alexander
- John Amos
- Ice -T
- Amiri Baraka
- Bill Bellamy
- Ray Liotta
Discussing the folks who have moved on from our community to achieve amazing feats reminds our kids that anything is possible. No matter the situation.
- Just ASK! Most recently, a teacher who just moved to Newark asked me about a place to grab a drink after work. He mentioned he has been driving back to the Bronx to go to Happy Hour, but would really like to do something local. I sent him a list of places and events! He now updates me on happenings.
Honoring Our Communities
While I recognize as an educator, there are already so many things we prioritize each day. From parent meetings to grade books to lesson planning there is always something. And, while in the thick of it, continue to note that we have the honor of serving in these communities. You impact and influence the most impressionable people in the area. Take that seriously and be the teacher you needed when you were in school.
Saraya J. Burks, a Newark resident and product of Newark Public Schools, began teaching in August of 2007. Saraya has taught a variety of subjects and grade levels over the years, but found the most happiness as a middle school literacy teacher and instructional coach. Saraya currently works in teacher coaching and development as an Associate Director.