LINDEN, NJ - A Linden elementary school teacher wanted to find a way to make Black History Month more relevant and personal to Linden Public School students, so he asked friends to help him by sharing their success stories.

L.J. McGhee, joined by fellow educator Allison Rotola, came up with the idea to create a video highlighting stories of former Linden Public School students who are now successful adults.

“The video came about because I grew up in Linden and most of my friends are successful products of the Linden Public School system,” said McGhee. “We all are still actively involved in either the school community or community outside of the school. I thought it would be cool to have real life people that you can see daily making an impact in your community that once were sitting in the same exact seats these students are sitting in now.”

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The videos titled "Mr. McGhee & Friends” is a compilation of small clips by adults who once attended schools throughout the district, including Linden High School, McManus and Soehl middle schools, and various elementary schools.

McGhee and Rotola brainstormed the idea, then got the support of School No 2. Principal Peter Fingerlin and acting Vice Principal Antoinette Modrak.

“They did an amazing job,” Fingerlin said. “Very powerful! School No. 2 and the Linden Public School District continue to inspire students, of all backgrounds, to challenge themselves and exceed their own expectations. This video is proof of that.”

"The work they put together created such a personal connection that has made this Black History Month celebration even more inspirational,” said Modrak.

McGhee enlisted his friends to be subjects of the video and the response was overwhelming.

“When I asked about participating, my friends did not hesitate,” said McGhee. “They sent me short videos about them and which school they attended and provided positive messages for the students.”

The response drummed up so much support that the initial video actually led to a part two.

McGhee and Rotola also enlisted School No. 2 paraprofessional Sardou Sainvil to be in the video, as well as to use his extraordinary video editing skills to put the video together.

“Mr. Sardou did an amazing job of putting all the pieces together,” McGhee said. “The response was amazing from students, colleagues, and people in the community. Huge credit goes to those that participated and made the video so impactful to our school community.”

Many Black History Month lessons focus on famous African-Americans who made great contributions throughout history, but McGhee and Rotola felt everyday heroes from students’ own hometown may be more accessible to today’s students.

“I think it is very important to recognize the community heroes, and I was just fortunate a lot of them are my close friends of 20-plus years who walked the halls of the elementary school, middle school, and high school together,” McGhee said. “We are proud to be from Linden and want to help in any way possible.”

Check out Part 1 & 2 of Mr. McGhee & Friends below:



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