It is no coincidence that when I applied to FoodCorps, my first choice was to serve at the Greater Newark Conservancy in Newark, New Jersey. My family’s history in Newark dates back to the 1900s, so I wanted to serve in the heart of the city to deepen my connections with my family and community. Today, my service site – the Conservancy – is literally within walking distance from where my family first lived when they came to Newark in the 1950s.
Through my service with FoodCorps, I’ve learned that my roots with the community I serve are deeper than I have ever pondered. In researching for a presentation on cultural lesson planning, I interviewed my mother, Flora Laboy to hear more about my family’s culture and history. My mom began telling her story by starting in the late 1950s when her father, Luis Laboy Gonzalez, emigrated from Puerto Rico with his wife and nine children to the Central Ward of Newark. Their first residence was an apartment in the West Kinney Street Projects in Newark and my mom and her siblings attended Queen of Angels Grammar School on Belmont Avenue. Her grammar school and church were demolished recently, but the memories there live on. One of my mom’s most vivid memories dates back to The Newark Riots of 1967. During this time, the National Guard was called in to assist and restore order after numerous days of ongoing violence. The beautiful city my mother had known was forever changed:
Then and Now: the picture to the left is in 1967 during the riots where my mother resided; the one on the right is the same location today.
Holding my family heritage close, I am proud to say I am a third generation resident of Newark, having resided in the Central and East Wards. I am a graduate of East Side High School and Rutgers Business School on their Newark Campus. While attending Rutgers, I worked as a Food Policy Intern for the City of Newark. Upon completion of the internship I was inspired to collaborate with Rutgers Master Gardeners and open a community garden. In June of 2013, the Garden of Worker Bees – an organic community garden – was born in Newark’s Central Ward through the City’s Adopt-A-Lot Program. My mom visits the garden every Saturday and we volunteer there together! My extended family joins too and it feels like our family culture has come full circle – from my family’s move to Newark in 1950 to connecting around my passion for gardening in 2016.
Today in my FoodCorps service, my familial roots and passions for food, gardening, and cooking allow me to personally connect with my students. My mom is proud of the work I do in the city we have both come to love. Newark’s diverse community allows us to embrace our differences while traveling with our taste buds to learn where our food comes from, by sharing our cultural, traditional, and historical connectedness.