For Montclair Local

Two women with deep roots in the community serving in the areas of education and civil rights were honored by the students of Montclair High School’s Civics and Government Institute (CGI).

On Feb. 22 at the George Innes Atrium the two honorees were Andrea Smith-Morgan, Montclair High School Teacher and founder of the nonprofit Mindful Awareness Academy for Children (MAAC) and Christa Rapoport, Chair of the Montclair Civil Rights Commission.

Since 2005, the students of CGI have been holding an annual dinner to honor African Americans in the community. CGI is a small learning community that focuses on citizenship, government, and social issues, and is committed to diversity not only within its program, but also throughout the Montclair community.

African-American Achievement Dinner

“When you have diversity, beauty is also pain. I like that they [students] are learning this early,” said honoree Rapoport.

The event was attended by a wide cross spectrum of the community.

“I’m a veteran of this event. I love coming. All aspects of our community get together and celebrates and focuses on scholarship,” said Mayor Robert Jackson.

Diversity goes beyond race in Montclair, said Renée Baskerville, 4th Ward Councilperson and council liaison to the Montclair Civil Rights Commission. She had attended the event every year.

“Diversity is about everyone and everyone feeling empowered,” she said. “I think that it is important that the kids understand that we’re all one community and we are coming together to celebrate them, the honorees, and the great work they do.”

As a child, Smith-Morgan was told she was average. Today her passion is to help Black

African-American Achievement Dinner

students see they are better than average.

“Adulthood can be defined as unfinished business of childhood. According to the book by Todd Rose, 'The End of Average,' he argues that the long standing practice of drawing conclusion about individuals using statistical averages is flawed and damaging and that there is no such thing as an average person. So this average student, I became focused. I get knee deep in my passions, in 2014 I started MAAC to close the academic achievement gap of African American students,” said Smith-Morgan, who received two standing ovations from the audience of politicians, parents, staff and students.

The evening was rounded out with performances by The Passing Notes and the MADLOM Drummers, an African Drumming Ensemble; and with Poetry by Azarius “Oz” Dordoni.

African-American Achievement Dinner
Claudia Nketia plays and sings aa opening song at the African American Achievement Dinner at Montclair High School.

Although the event is a team effort, with teachers facilitating and community businesses and parents donating food and services, students take the lead.

“Students take the time to put on this wonderful event, they are engaged, the teachers do help, but this is their event,” James Earle, Montclair High School Principal.

Proceeds from the event benefit a senior minority CGI minority student.

African-American Achievement Dinner
Jacob Appiah and Ovaun Matthews from The Passing Notes sing at the African-American Achievement Dinner. NEIL GRABOWSKY/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL