Park Slope West, New Jersey

by Christine Adams Beckett

In 1977, Montlcair’s Board of Education created a magnet system in order to form a more balanced population and enriching curriculum in all our schools.  The result has clearly been a richness for all our children and their parents, bringing together families of different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.  I know the system is not perfect.  We are currently dealing with budget cuts that are damaging to the essence of what makes our magnet system so unique, and racial tensions most certainly exist.  A dozen years ago, a very in depth piece about integration issues appeared in the New York Times Magazine,  “Integration Anxiety,” by Lise Funderburg, that gives a very clear perspective of integration in Montclair and how it might never be easily achieved in totality.

The Montclair Parent Teacher Association Council produced a wonderful video about the original segregation of Montclair; what is most striking is the microcosmic example of 1960s America found right here in this suburban town.  Our Schools, Our Town is an excellent piece of video journalism that provides a terrific history of our now renowned magnet system, where each elementary school has a thematic focus that are each strong in their own right.  They began by improving every school with an exciting, new way of presenting the state curriculum, requiring bussing to their lottery-selected scholastic destination.  The key to success: we can integrate, but what is on the end of the bus ride must be an attractive option.

I still get choked up when I watch Our Schools, Our Town.  Anyone who has utilized Montclair’s public schools recognizes the uniqueness of our system which inspires a lot of pride.  It has also made our community a very attractive option for City dwellers looking for a suburb with excellent schools that isn’t as homogenized as other surrounding communities seem to be.  Our rich history as an artist enclave, our presence of an excellent university that provides a number of diversions and services for the town community, a direct train line into Manhattan has attracted a rich, culturally and ethnically diverse, cosmopolitan community.  Again, as Funderburg points out, we haven’t exactly created a Shangri-La here in Essex County, New Jersey, but I personally wouldn’t choose another suburban community in which to live.  My children are being introduced to a world of differences, and in the process, how much we are all alike.

I don’t feel qualified to write about the racial flavor of our town, except to share a dear friend’s words with you.  Lisa Rosenberg is a former ballerina turned psychotherapist, is the product of a biracial couple, and is currently raising biracial children of her own.  Lisa is also a friend with whom I have chirped on the playground whilst waiting for our children to finish their school day these past six years.  She is insightful, sensitive and a wonderful worker, and she can eloquently speak about different aspects of racial perspective.

Lisa recently very kindly nominated me for a WordPress Sunshine Award, a recognition I have to admit I don’t feel adequately qualified for in the world of Bloggers to accept as I am still very new to this endeavor.  In the interests of perspective, I introduce her with our very personal connection and therefore her clear bias towards me.  I am nonetheless grateful for her encouragement and her friendship and most of all, her tireless direction of our children’s school play: how lucky our children are, to have a volunteer choreographer with such rich dance experience!

There is lots to say about her, including that she is the model of the little girl Lisa of Donald Freeman Corduroy fame!, but I will leave the details to her.  This particular post talks about growing up biracial in the 1970s in Manahattan vs her experiences raising her biracial children right here in “Park Slope West”, New Jersey, USA.  (Park Slope, for all those out of the Metropolitan area, is a neighborhood in Brooklyn where it seems many of our Montclarions originated.)  I know Lisa’s words will give you a much better perspective than I ever could on the wonderfully unique make-up of our beloved town.  You should read all her other columns, especially: Some ’70s Style Racial Candor From the Drunk on the Bus.