In May 2020, Malden Reads planned to host the Malden Mass. Memories Road Show (MMRS), a statewide, event-based, participatory digital archiving program, through UMass Boston’s Healey Library, that documents people, places and events in Massachusetts through family photographs and stories. Due to the pandemic, the in-person event could not be held. Since then, Neighborhood View has been contributing photographs and stories online as part of the Malden Mass. Memories Stuck-at-Home Show. The in-person event is now scheduled for April 27, 2024. More info at the end of this article.
By Joy Pearson
A microcosm of the world, Malden, Mass. has an abundance of cultures, each with its own heritage. Nekita Lamour, a Malden resident, wants students to learn more about their own heritage. She knows this will enrich their lives. She has long desired to help transform education for Blacks, especially Haitian Blacks. To her, students need experiential learning and learning from professionals outside the classroom. Their perception of their world creates an internal environment, she says, and that “internal environment has to be positive.” Many of the photos Nekita provided for the Mass. Memories Road Show archive show her dedication to this philosophy.
As an educated Haitian American, Nekita is steeped in Haitan Creole history. She wants Haitian Black students in school to be aware of this little-taught history and knows this will give them a new sense of respect and a new sense of self. Her passion is for them to learn their Haitian culture, and to see a larger world for themselves – by studying the language, by reading beyond the typical American classroom and by seeing themselves more fully represented in their daily lives. She wants to see more Black teachers in the public schools as well. She says, “Black teachers are good teachers, too.”
For two summers (in 2010 & 2011), Nekita piloted a Saturday school for Haitian youth who were in grades 5-12 in the Malden Public Schools. It was supported through a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). “I did it because I’m a school teacher,” she says. “I had an idea of working with the [learning] environment.” They studied MCAS prep, typical school subjects, Haitian Creole, and culture. Since Nekita started the Saturday school soon after the Haitian earthquake of 2010, she had students do painting as an emotional release.
By increasing the learning environment of Haitian youth, Nekita aimed to go beyond literacy – reading, writing, ‘rithmetic and testing. In schools, she says, “Kids need a learning environment with someone who looks like them, who speaks their language, who is from their culture. I tried to create that example.”
“I did at least 6 field trips a year,” Nekita says, adding that other teachers don’t have time to do that. The students and she went to the 52nd floor of the Prudential Building, the Bunker Hill monument, the USS Constitution, the Massachusetts State House, rode the Swan boats in the public gardens, took day-long trolley tours, went on a Duck tour, and visited the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, MA, among other places. She says, “They need to be exposed. I took them everywhere.”
A memorable field trip was visiting the MA State House. There, students met Malden Representative Paul Donato and sat in the House chamber, as well as in the State House library. When the head librarian showed them around the entire library, students saw things they would never have seen in regular school, such as copies of the Massachusetts Constitution and other important books.
Students learned about Charles Sumner, the white abolitionist Federal Representative for MA who in 1856 assisted Haiti to become the first Caribbean country to gain independence. Nekita says the students were surprised, one of them saying, “I never heard that story before.”
A special treat for all of them was to see and hold the medal that Haitian President Nissauge Saget sent in honor of Sumner’s work to gain U.S. recognition of Haiti as a sovereign state. Students learned how Sumner was severely injured by two anti-abolitionist southern Representatives because of his work for freedom for Blacks. Other famous Haitians they learned about were the controversial anti-abolitionist James Audubon, America’s most famous bird artist, and Alexander Dumas, French novelist and playwright (The Three Musketeers), both children of a slave owner and a slave ancestor.
Nekita says, “I would still be doing this if I got support.” She had spent one year planning how to use the federally-funded CDBG funds. The grant monies covered field trip expenses, advertising, space at Tri-Cap and stipends for the interns. Students and interns she has kept in touch with have continued their education, receiving degrees, some even receiving advanced degrees.
Looking back, Nekita says, “I became interested in being an educator since I was 7 years old in Haiti.” Her rite of passage into the Catholic faith was her Holy Communion in her home town of Petit-Goâve, Haiti.
She had said to one of her teachers, Sister Bernadette, that she had wanted to be a nun or a teacher. Her father, a doctor, and her mother, a nurse, had always emphasized the importance of reading and writing. However, had she stayed in Haiti, she says, she would have been in the medical field like her parents and, later, her brother. Her mother had wanted to live in the United States; her father had wanted to live in Europe. First, Nekita’s father went to the U.S., sent for her mother, and, not long after, in 1973, Nekita’s mother sponsored Nekita and her three younger brothers to go to Boston. ”At that time I was in the 11th grade.”
Nekita went on to study school administration at Boston State College that later merged with UMass Boston, received a Master’s in Education with a concentration in ESL from UMass Boston, and later studied for a doctorate in Education at Cambridge College. “I’ve also studied religion, but never worked in a religious setting.” Her religious degree is from the Jesuit School of Theology which later merged with Boston College.
In 1999, Nekita moved to Malden, after having lived and taught in Somerville and Cambridge. “I was tenured as a teacher for 27 years,” she says. “I’ve taught kids from all over the world.”
I’m a professional volunteer.” Nekita says, “I’m always organizing something.” “On March 7, 2021, my daughter, a mental health therapist, and I organized a zoom webinar about mental health issues. About 15 people from Africa, West Indies, Canada, and the U.S. attended, exchanging ideas about intergenerational health.”
In May 2018, Haitian Heritage Month, Nekita gave a powerpoint seminar, ‘Haitian History in the U.S.’ at the Malden Public Library. There were books and paintings about Haiti, some which she brought, others the library provided. Her powerpoint slideshow highlighted Haitian history, its people and their contributions, such as James Audubon and Alexander Dumas.
Although Nekita currently works at the Salemwood Elementary School as a family Liaison for the Haitian community, her heart is still in teaching. She would like to create a broad learning environment in the Malden community through support from stakeholders, i.e., professionals, people from non-profits, from faith leaders. She would like to train them to be involved in Black culture and to create a learning environment for Blacks around their various expertises.
“I want other people to do something similar to what I did in the Saturday school, i.e., expose Blacks, refugees included, to a rich learning environment,” Nekita says. She would like to trade her influence from doing all the teaching to, instead, coordinating local professionals from diverse cultures and professions to offer hands-on experiences for young people. She says, “Kids who do enrichment programs in their language do better in school.”
To Nekita, ”Learning goes beyond literacy.” To her, life is not about going to school, then, getting a good job. It’s about making life better. It’s about working ‘for the greater good.’
Stay tuned for information about the upcoming Malden Mass. Memories Road Show, to be held on Saturday, April 27, 2024 at the Malden Senior & Teen Enrichment Center. We hope you will participate by bringing in up to three photographs and to tell the stories related to them. To see more of the “Stuck-at-Home” version of the Malden Mass Memories Road Show, check out the following Neighborhood View articles: