Play Your Role
Loren Roth worked in Memphis for seven weeks as an MTR Camp Summer Intern – Math Teacher. MTR Camp is designed to provide academic enrichment within a summer camp experience for elementary students who live within MTR partner neighborhoods, while exposing interns to urban education and the residency program. Loren reflects in this post on joining MTR’s mission of “Christian love expressed in equal education.”
Author: Loren Roth | MTR Camp 2015 Intern | Duke University
We may catch a glimpse of them in pictures. We may even see their faces flash briefly across the screen in film, but we will never hear their names. We will never know their stories. The thousands of men and women who walked countless miles across the city of Montgomery in 1956 to protest the discriminatory bussing policies understood what it meant to play their role. I can only image how as the weeks turned into months and the cool-bite of winter turned into the heavy heat of summer it would be tempting to say, “This isn’t working. It is time for me to try something new, lead a new movement.” After all, there was nothing glamorous about walking several miles to work in the unbearable humidity of Alabama in August knowing full well that your name would never appear in the history books. However, it was the relentless support and bravery of the thousands of unnamed civil rights activists, their willingness to engage in the seemingly mundane, which led to the official desegregation of the Montgomery busses on December 21, 1956.
Nearly sixty years later the struggle for justice in policy and in action continues, and nowhere is that struggle more clear than in education. Coming in to MTR Camp this summer I was bought in to the idea that “urban education is the greatest social justice and civil rights issue in America today.” I had learned in classes and seen the data about how closely a child’s educational attainment is tied his zip code and income bracket, and I wanted to do something about it.
As I rising senior, I was entering my last summer before having to figure out what I was going to do in the “real world” praying this summer would give me some clarity about where I would fit within the world of urban education. I had dreams of writing thought-provoking books like Jonathan Kozol, or leading a community empowerment organization like John Perkins, or maybe even defending the voiceless in court like Bryan Stevenson. I knew change was a slow process. I recognized it wouldn’t happen in isolation. I was fully aware that change would only occur when actors in a variety of sectors and roles worked together toward a common goal. But in the landscape of justice in education, I wanted to be one of the Martin Luther Kings preaching to thousands, not the nameless bus boycotter walking three miles to and from work each day with sweat dripping and muscles aching.
However, as the five weeks of camp went on, my white-knuckled grip on my perception of success began to loosen. During orientation David Montague argued that the people who are closest to the issue have the most power to effect change, boldly implying that as classroom teachers this summer we would do more for the children we were serving than he could as the president of MTR. In the beginning I struggled to embrace this idea, after all it is not the foot soldiers whose names we remember, and I have never seen a kindergarten teacher make Forbes’ list of “30 Under 30.” Then during week three of camp, Leroy Barber spoke the words that my experience had been teaching me but I had yet to understand: “Some days you get to pray with folks. Most days you get to sit down and teach math. Do it.”
Effecting change may not look like writing best-sellers or arguing for justice in front of the Supreme Court. Some days it looks like wearing Halloween costumes to explain “more” and “less.” Some days it looks like screaming “I love to learn” until you lose your voice because you want kids to believe they are intelligent. Some days it looks like tears running down your face because there are only four more days until parents will be arriving to watch their kids on stage and no one has any idea what they are doing. Some days it looks like just showing up.
Two months ago when I looked at the daunting task of bringing equity and justice to education, I dreamed of doing something big. I wanted to develop policies or advocate in courts or lead non-profits. However after spending a summer in Memphis, I dream of doing something bigger.
I want to teach.