I work for a relatively large, well-respected nonprofit organization in Nashville. The organization has been around for quite some time, serving a particular sector of Nashville, where mainly people of the lowest socioeconomic status reside. The organization carries out several programs and processes to better these people. One such program focuses on ensuring that children receive a quality education and have all the tools they need to meet academic success. This happens to be something I believe is essential to personal and community success.
After months of job searching with no luck, I applied for a tutor position with the aforementioned program. Initially, the pay is what caught my eye. So I applied, was fortunate to be called in for an interview, and eventually I was offered the job. Never in my wildest dreams did I picture myself here. Never.
What I signed up for was to help lead and carry out an after-school program in some of the city’s poorest performing schools. The poorest performing students of these select poorest performing schools comprise the body of the program. These kids, I am affectionately known as “Mr. Jonathan”. Yes, me with the long hair who jams out to psychedelic rock music with no experience in education. I am responsible for teaching children a curriculum to help them improve their math and reading score to appropriate levels. There are days I wake up and still laugh to myself in disbelief that this is my job. That they selected me of all people to carry out this mission.
While driving to the elementary school for my first day of work, I remembered that I have no formal training or any real experience working with kids. You’d think this would be a basic prerequisite, but apparently, it wasn’t. Go figure. My little cousins don’t even know my name. I’ve barely talked to them. Hell, I don’t even know how to talk to them. I realize that my grandmothers and aunts have mastered the art of talking with small children. This is something I still have to work on.
As I enter the school, horrible premonitions of completely defiant children fill my head. I am in a classroom struggling to assert my authority as they make it rain crayons and goldfish. A pencil ends up in someone’s eye, sobbing ensues and I’m left to establish harmony.
Luckily, this nightmare has not come to pass…yet. I enter the tiny halls of the elementary school, walls littered with poorly completed finger paintings and multi-colored coffee filter art. Perhaps they were supposed to be flowers? I make my way down to the room where my supervisor is. Justin is a younger male, in his late 20s, well groomed and speaks a mile a minute with a strong Michigan accent. We barely finish introducing ourselves before he lays on me an onslaught of pertinent information and gossipy minutiae. After a few minutes, it becomes harder to separate one from the other. “You’ll eat snack together and then take them to the bathroom, but make sure you hold Max’s hand, and if Grace starts to cry just ignore her. You’ll want to separate Joey and Brandon, and make sure they clean up after themselves. 4:30 is reading and you’re supposed to read each book twice, but make sure they understand it. Try to ask them how their day was, but remember you’re not there to be their friend. First and foremost, you’re a tutor.” It was one hell of an orientation, and I assumed there would have to be a large portion of on-the-job training.
I walk down the hall as fast as I am nervous. Justin leads me to my particular group of kids and introduces us. “Hi. I’m Mr. Jonathan” was all I could think of to say. Their blank stares mimicked my own. Silence fills the air. A girl, most likely a first or second grader blurts out “Why your nose like that?” This question was a real stumper. I had never really been asked about the shape and size of my nose, nor did I know how to give an appropriate answer to a seven year old. “I don’t know. It just is,” I reply.
I like to go ahead and take the time now and disclaim that as a non-Education major and being one that has virtually zero experience with children, that getting them to do anything exactly how I want them to do it is practically impossible.
This weekend, Jessica and I went to see Tennessee Repertory Theater’s production of Clybourne Park. This intense, two-act play by Bruce Norris was a fantastic social commentary on race, urban development, and gentrification. I’m no theater critic, so I won’t go too much into detail, but the Tennessee Repertory Theater did a wonderful job.
The first act is set in the 1950’s in Clybourne Park. A white, middle class family is set to move out of their white, middle class neighborhood, only to learn that a black family would be moving in. This stirs quite a controversy among community members. Act two finds the same house in same neighborhood fifty years later. Only this time, a white family is set to move in to a predominantly black neighborhood. As the conversation develops, racial tensions fly high.
It was a very emotional play. Billed as a comedy, at times the plot was incredibly dark and conflicted. It was hard to laugh, despite the actors’ comedic performances, due to the awkward racial tension and serious subject matter. Perhaps that is one goal of the piece, to stir the thoughts of the audience, and question their preconceived notions.
The debates over gentrification and urban development, as told by the play, are nothing new under the sun. I do, however, wonder if solutions are possible. How do you encourage ethnic and socio-economic diversity amongst a geographic community? And are racial tensions really dissolved from 50 years ago? Or do we perpetuate this tension only by using different terminology and such? The play ends in chaotic irresolution, which might elude to the current state of society. Solutions are…not easily visible and change is not readily achieved.
What I found most interesting about Clybourne Park was the context surrounding the work. When I learned that it was written as a companion/response to the classic A Raisin In The Sun, my mouth fell agape. The first act occurs simultaneously with events from A Raisin In The Sun, and they share one minor character that opens the door to the other conversations that were going on outside of the Younger family. This innovative connection really makes the play shine and stresses how important the original work is for American Literature.
I am now an intern for Progreso Community Center. I’m excited to be a part of a local, nonprofit organization. Progreso is dedicated to empowering the Hispanic community of Nashville, and this is my first time working directly with such an organization. I have volunteered before and attended functions sponsored by nonprofits, but until now, I have yet to actually get my hands dirty and do some work.
Primarily, my internship will focus on communications and outreach through social and web media means. I’m also at the disposal of Progreso, so my duties expand as needed. So far, I’ve gotten to help assemble a recording studio and a computer lab. Pretty fun stuff, if you ask me.
I don’t want to be selfish in saying so, but perhaps my favorite part of working with Progreso is the bilingual environment. I relish the opportunity to practice Spanish, and the staff make me feel more than comfortable doing so (Win!). With that said, even though my role is part-time, my brain thoroughly exhausts itself after a day at Progreso. Going back and forth between the two languages leaves me on the tip of my tied-tongue, straining to remember that certain word or proper direct object pronoun.
One of the projects I’m spearheading for Progreso is a bilingual blog. Every organization has a story to tell, and I’m here to help Progreso tell theirs. For now, the blog has been named Nuestro Progreso / Our Progress. As Progreso is predominantly populated by Spanish-speakers, it is only right to provide a Spanish version of the blog. Therefore, for each blog I write, I will translate it into Spanish. This is definitely a time where my translation coursework comes in handy. I’d like to research more about similar efforts and similar organizations. Bilingual blogs and social media practices for nonprofits are definitely on my radar right now.
I’ve got a big to-do list and still quite a few stories of my own to tell. Sooner or later, I’ll get around to posting about Canada and other stuff, but for now, I’m going to go cook some food.
My last post was from June, and a lot has changed since then. I no longer reside in my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky and I no longer work at the University of Kentucky College of Arts & Sciences. I have transplanted to Nashville, Tennessee and I’m currently seeking job opportunities here. More specifically, I’m kicking it over in East Nashville, and I’m loving it. Nashville as a whole is great, but East Nashville is where it’s at. I’ve only been down here a month, but I’ve already stumbled upon some great food, coffee, bars, and a sweet nature park, all in my neighborhood. Now if I could just find a job in East Nashville…..
The move is quite an adjustment. Going from a population of roughly 300,000 to over 600,000 can cause quite a stir sometimes. I’m not used to living in a city where the interstate lays over the city like arteries over an organ. Although it is much more efficient for such a large population, it can be stressful at times. Also an adjustment…..Tennessee’s generous sales tax. Wowza. Coming in at just over 9%, it’s definitely putting extra strain on my spending.
This move was not a spontaneous decision, but it did seem to come up all of the sudden. I’ve found myself explaining my situation a thousand times over to people both new and old. I’m excited to be down here. The city is vibrant and there’s always something going on. Nashville is a great city for young professionals looking to start their careers and it’s great for musicians looking for gigs. Since I fall into both categories, this is what you’d call a win-win situation.
In Lexington, my lease on my one-bedroom apartment was up, and my time at Arts & Sciences was coming to an inevitable close (I graduated). Packing it all up and heading out seemed like a great idea. And I still maintain that belief. It helps to have a handful of great friends in Nashville to make me feel welcome. They’ve made the adjustment sooo much easier and I couldn’t be more thankful.
I’ve been practicing a lot more lately. I feel I’m going to need to be on top of my chops if I’m going to compete with all these Nashville musicians. I’m determined and optimistic about my professional and my musical life. Nashville has no shortage of opportunities, it’s just about find the right ones for me.
Until next time……
I’m back! And with lots to share. Transition, death, life, traveling, Canada, culture, music and more - coming soon!
For now, here’s a picture of Paul playing a Rickerbacker similar to my own. I’m left-handed as well, but play right handed. #funfact
Welcome to Life.
daily cup of weird for the day