A Clearly Guest Post by Anthony Fleg
Albuquerque – In the heart of the International District, one-hundred and fifty people gathered for “Community Pride Day: Our Food, Our Community” Wednesday evening at Van Buren Middle School.
Though many community leaders and elected officials were in attendance, it was an evening for them to listen, an evening to celebrate youth as they presented the projects they have worked on through the Citizen Schools afterschool program at Van Buren.
One group worked on understanding the stories and meaning behind the foods we eat. Kathy Rojo, a 6th grader at Van Buren, presented to the crowd on the importance of understanding new cultures through food. “We are trying new things, learning about all of the foods eaten here in the International District,” she said proudly. Her group provided and served a potluck for the celebration.
Laura Musumi, the teacher for the class and a staff member at Citizen Schools, said that her idea for this class started with a love of food. “We have so much diversity in this community, and we tried to show how you can find common ground with others through something as simple as food.”
A second group worked on community outreach, and after walking the neighborhood, decided that they would do something about the conspicuous piles of large trash items (e.g. furniture).
“Tonight, we are asking everyone here to join us in launching the Clean Community Campaign,” said Van Buren student Michael Rodriquez. The Campaign asks citizens to pledge that they will work hard to keep the community clean, including a promise not to pile trash in public spaces.
And if that wasn’t enough, the youth also created an “Inner Beauty Pageant,” with collages reflecting their unique talents and showing off their families.
One of the Citizen Schools teachers, Joanne Landry, explained, “There is so much inner hatred, so we wanted to create an opportunity for the youth to see their inner beauty…for some, I think this was the first time that they saw themselves in this way.”
Citizen Schools is a national organization that provides free afterschool programs for students in Title I schools, schools where many of the families live at or below the poverty line. Many of the teachers are volunteers from the community who have a desire to share a specific skill with students.
Joanne Landry, who also serves as a minister at the Interfaith Bible Church and as president of the Trumball Neighborhood Association (both of which served as co-sponsors for the event) says that the community outreach class was a way for her to share her passion for public service with the youth.
Alayna Bowman, serving as a teacher liaison for Citizen Schools, was all smiles as she helped the youth clean up after the event.
“The teamwork and leadership we saw here tonight was something special,” she beamed, noting that she and her staff are already looking for more volunteers to teach this spring’s classes.
Maybe the evening was summed up best by City Councilman Rey Garduno’s comment, amidst the chatter of excited students preparing their presentations and families meeting one another.
“The noise of inclusiveness…you can see it, you can feel it here tonight,” he said.