Community Members Share Stories at Renaissance

Community Members Share Stories at Renaissance
Posted on 10/21/2019
Montclair is a special place. That was the resounding message among community members who volunteered their time on Fri., Oct. 18, to share their experiences growing up in Montclair with Renaissance Middle School students. Prior to the visit, students watched the documentary, “Our Schools, Our Town,” about segregation in Montclair and the magnet school plan that resulted from the desegregation order and the efforts of committed parents and community members.

                     group pic of community members

The idea to have lifelong Montclairions speak to students stemmed on Sept. 11, when Principal Joseph Putrino noticed there was a lack of connection among them regarding the events that took place that day. That developed into an idea to have students rediscover Montclair. “We find it is incredibly important for our students to fully understand the history connected to how Montclair became such a diverse and dynamic town with a nationally recognized magnet school district,” he said. “It’s one thing to watch a video, but to hear it first-hand and with that authenticity, is an invaluable experience.”

Guests gathered in the multi-purpose room and exchanged stories before heading to classrooms where they each had the opportunity to talk to students and answer questions.

Jack Farrell, Montclair High Shool ’66, was asked by his friend’s daughter, Naiya Tyson, who is an 8th grader at Renaissance, if he would speak. “I’ve lived in this town all my life. This is an opportunity to share my experiences and be an inspiration to future generations to achieve the highest level they can,” he said. Naiya’s great aunt Lorena Tyson, a lifelong resident of Montclair and retired science teacher/department chair from MHS, also came to the school to offer her insight.  

Another lifelong resident, Nesta Stephens, came to talk about how as a student, she had the first two black teaches at Glenfield and the first black teacher at MHS. “Those teachers telling me how to deal with racism helped me in my career and in my life, which I’ve passed on to my daughters and I’d like to pass on to students,” she said.  

Montclair community members  Montclair community members
Above left: Jack Farrell and Lorena Tyson. Right: Farrell, James Harris, president of the NAACP Education committee and Nesta Stephens.

Lori Wood, MHS ’82, is a 5th generation Monclairion who has raised four children through the Montclair school system (her youngest graduated last year). “My roots are in this community,” she said. “I’ve listened to the history from my family and witnessed a lot of change.” 

Montclair community members  Montclair community members
Above left: Lori Wood and Kevin Murphy, Montclair resident with children in MHS. Right: Tyson, Latifah Jannah, Montclair Board of Education Vice President and Jennifer Bailey, Renaissance teacher.

Another 1982 graduate, John E. Lewis, said that “growing up in Montclair gave me the opportunity to fully experience different cultures and people from diverse backgrounds. I thought growing up that was normal. It wasn’t until I got out in the real world that I realized not everywhere is the melting pot that Montclair is; that Montclair is something special.” 

John Lewis  Montclair community members

Above left: John Lewis, DEA agent and son of Aubrey Lewis. Right: Dr. Felice Harrison-Crawford, Director of Montclair Public Schools Operations and School Support Services and Dr. Renee Baskerville, Montclair Township Fourth Ward Councilor.

Added Lewis, "I’m glad we shared some of Montclair’s stories with our youth, to inspire them to keep our community's gem polished."

teacher speaks to students  community member speaks to students  community member speaks to students
Above left: Joanne Ashe, Renaissance teacher who grew up in Montclair. Her uncle was head of security for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was in Montclair. Center: Dr. Harrison-Crawford. Right: Norma Tassy, Human Resource professional who grew up in Montclair.
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