Voices from the #PrincipalProject Community

How Our Community Came Together for Black History Month


Both of us grew up in Linden, and we both serve here now – Allison as an educator and Laurence as an administrator. Last school year, as we considered how we could recognize and honor Black History Month, a thought occurred to us: Why not highlight the influential figures who came out of our own school district community?

We decided to reach out to connections throughout our community and invite them to share a bit of their story. With the help of a district media professional, we compiled a video highlighting a wide range of alumni. We have custodians, we have teachers, we have paraprofessionals, we have lawyers, we have doctors, we have NFL players. We wanted to give students real evidence: Your world is so much bigger than you realize. 

The community came together to inspire our students

It’s a little awkward to ask for a favor, and we didn’t know how people would respond to the idea of being on video. But when we sent emails and text messages, we kept getting the same quick response: “Absolutely.” The more people we reached out to, the more we realized that our community members may not all work directly with students, but they all want to make a positive difference and instill a pride in our young people. So many people participated that we ended up creating two videos!

We asked folks in the videos to answer three questions:

  1. First, which school they attended in Linden, so that the kids going to that school could say, “Hey, they started right where I am.” 
  2. Then, “What are you doing now?”
  3. Finally, “What’s a positive message you’d like to send to the kids in our Linden schools?” 

We wanted students to get the message, “I was once in your seat, so you can reach where I am if you want to. There’s no limit to what you can be.”

It helps to have ties to your community when creating a video like this – we both were born and raised here, so we knew so many people we could ask. But at the same time, if that’s not your position, the video can also serve as a chance to make those connections and find out what’s happening in the neighborhood where you teach. You can go to the stores, to the local events and organizations, to families and ask if they want to share how they’re giving back to the community. Then, through this process, you’ll also learn more about what’s really going on in the lives of your students.

The video was a powerful piece of positive storytelling during a difficult time

After we shared the video, kids would approach us and others who were featured, saying, “Hey, listen, I saw you on the TV!” They asked more little questions. They said things like, “I want to be a doctor like the guy on the TV.” They wanted to acknowledge the video in conversation, which seemed to suggest they took something from it – large or small. 

Over the past couple years, there have been so many moments of tension, with a lot of negativity posted online. We saw this video as shining a light on positivity and warmth, especially with the Black community. It was a way to tell our students: Sometimes things feel rough, but you have people rooting for you. 

A video like this could make an impact any time during the school year, but we loved including it as an invitation for pride during Black History Month. We don’t want students to feel like success is so far away, only to be found in the media or in history books. We wanted to show our students that there’s pride to be had in where we all come from. We wanted them to know: There’s greatness all around you, and you are part of this story. 

Check out the video >


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About the Author

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Laurence McGhee & Allison Rotola

Laurence McGhee and Allison Rotola are educators in Linden, NJ.