It’s been said before, but Clinton Smith, a 10th-grade English teacher at Parkdale High School in Riverdale, MD, is saying it again, and very powerfully. Where you live – your zip code, if you will – does matter. Watch him in action on YouTube in a piece called “Place Matters.” Riverdale is a suburb of what is known as “greater Washington, D.C.,” so although it is a suburb, it is still considered an “inner city” area.
Place matters. It matters when you live in a “food desert,” a place where you cannot access fresh, healthy food within a reasonable distance, whether you walk, drive, or take public transportation. Sure, maybe there’s a 7-Eleven store or a Dunkin’ Donuts nearby, maybe a pizza place, or a burger joint, but that’s not what we mean by “access to fresh and healthy food.” Still, lots of people live in food deserts like this, especially in the inner cities and in isolated rural areas, and it shouldn’t be any surprise to find that people there are prone to illness, lack energy, or are obese because they have no access to fresh food.
It matters when you are living right next to a dump or a landfill, and you feel that you are no better than the trash heaped literally in your back yard. It matters when you live in an area that people are taught to avoid, where there’s “more pollution than solution,” as Smith puts it.
It matters when there is ongoing gun violence on your street, when you have seen family members shot down in your front yard, and when a merry-go-round at the local playground is no better than a Russian roulette table when it comes to surviving a gunfight, even if you are not a participant.
It matters when your neighborhood has a life expectancy of up to 30 years less than the people in a county just seven miles away. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease take their toll, just as surely as the presence of violent gangs, alcoholism, and drug use, especially when you have to choose between buying medications or groceries.
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Clint Smith has been awarded the 2013 Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year award. When you watch the video, you will see why. He has been a force to be reckoned with since joining the staff at Parkdale High School. He has obtained over 1,200 books for students, through book drives, grants and personal donations. Last year, his students made gains in their reading scores of an average of over 2 years, an impressive gain, and this year’s students are wall on their way to similar gains. He has brought local writers and poets into his classroom to conduct workshops. He pushes students to apply lessons from literature to the real world.
Mr. Smith is a professional “spoken word poet,” who has competed internationally. He hails from New Orleans and is a graduate of Davidson College. He has given a whole new meaning to the expression, “Mr. Smith goes to Washington.” I can only hope that more young people like Clint Smith will decide to join the ranks of educators working with kids in the inner cities. His students are very fortunate.
He says his students are like “roses that grew from the concrete” and he wants them to know this: “Their lives are worth much more than the things of this world have fed them.” 🙂