Students Learn: It’s Never Too Late to Change Paths
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Andreas Jackson is a Teaching Associate at Louise A. Spencer Elementary School in Newark, NJ
Recently, the 6th grade students of Louise A. Spencer Citizen Schools Campus in Newark, N.J. received a very special visit from two social impact leaders from within their very own community.
Al-Tarik Onque co-founder of anti-violence organization Stop Shootin’ Inc. and Karimah Williams from Newark Community Solutions a community justice initiative, engaged the enthusiastic young learners by sharing their own personal narratives of triumph and redemption over the various trials and tribulations many young people are confronted with on urban streets. Their messages emphasized becoming productive contributors to society and serving the community of Newark in thoughtful and innovative ways.
Karimah Willams talked about her position of Alternative Sanctions Specialist for Newark Community Court. Her job is to help increase sentencing options for non-violent offenders in Newark Municipal Court including community service and counseling. Williams expressed deep concern for her fellow residents of Newark, and explained that when she sees someone in need during her travels through the city, she feels compelled to offer them money for a warm meal. When asked by a student whether she ever got involved with the negative elements of street life in her younger days, Williams explained that her mother was very strict and never allowed her to get close to bad influences.
Al-Tarik Onque candidly talked about his troubled past as a young man growing up in one of the rougher neighborhoods of Newark. With remorse in his voice, he spoke about the bad decisions he made earlier in life that cost him years of freedom. When asked by a student whether he ever shot someone before, he replied quite frankly, “unfortunately, I did”. He proceeded to explain that his negative choices were a result of his belief that “everybody was doing it, so I thought I was supposed to do it, as well.” However, Al-Tarik was quick to emphasize that his thinking was not correct at all.
After spending several years in prison Al-Tarik along with a couple of friends brainstormed how they could possibly help other young people in the city make better choices and decisions. This was the moment that Stop Shootin’ Inc. was born.
Students listened in astonishment as the man who once spent his time as a youth inflicting harm upon his fellow residents, now proclaimed his service for them by working as an advocate for Newark Mayor Cory Booker himself, in City Hall. This prompted one student to say out loud. “You changed your life around quickly”. As the 6th graders inquired about Al-Tarik’s past, he reminded them to focus on what he and his colleagues are doing now to uplift the city of Newark and not to focus on their past.
To the delight of the entire room, Al-Tarik capped the discussion with a positive freestyle rap verse, demonstrating his prosocial entertainment initiative Stop Shootin’ Music and evoking Oohs and Ahhs from the crowd.
The event ended with students showing their appreciation for genuine messages of service and commitment to the city of Newark given to them by their dynamic guests. In addition, they learned firsthand that no matter what mistakes you may make in life, it is never too late to take a more positive path. Now that’s empowerment!