Special NAACP Honor Bolstered by Notable Behind-the-Scenes Support
By David Brighouse
Photo by: Joe Brown
It is not an altogether uncommon occurrence when a story one is researching and writing starts out ostensibly about one thing and then gradually shifts its focus, main idea, or lesson as the details get filled in, additional people are interviewed, and the events themselves come into clearer focus. So it is with the story told herein.
On Friday, November 9, at its annual awards ceremony, the Rahway Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1909 as the nation’s oldest surviving civil rights organization, honored two individuals affiliated with Rahway High School (RHS). French teacher Robert Kinch and RHS senior, Keren Lebron Ramos, currently ranked 8th in her class, were presented with its Community Service Award and Youth Community Service Award, respectively.
In its acknowledgement of Mr. Kinch, the NAACP noted his longstanding commitment to the education and well-being of the youth of the Rahway community, calling him “one of the strongest proponents of the vision of the NAACP.” In a teaching career that began in 1973, that experienced a series of professional twists and turns along the way, and that culminated in his return to the classroom in 2003, Mr. Kinch tread, according to Rahway NAACP President Ronald C. McCray, a “long winding journey to our door, here in the City of Rahway where we have all been the better for his time spent with us.”
For Keren’s award, the NAACP noted that the lifelong Rahway resident, National Honor Society member, student government representative, and president of two RHS service organizations, Blu Tri and the Multicultural Club, exemplified the commitment to volunteer work and other altruistic pursuits that the community service recognition represents. Beyond the walls of the high school, her many other extracurricular activities, the award description continued, were also all community-based, from her work reading to children in town with the local “Storytime on the Go” program to her four-year participation in Rahway’s “Rites of Passage” initiative.
It is here that one might imagine our story typically starts to wind down. But as I began interviewing the principal figures involved and gathering quotations to fill out the article, Mr. Kinch pulled me aside to make an intriguing suggestion, albeit one which I did not initially know how I would integrate precisely into the plotline I was already formulating in my mind.
“I really think this article should be a story about Dr. Camp and all the support she’s given us,” he told me. “This is really what this is all about. She attended the event and, much more importantly, she has been behind-the-scenes now literally for years helping me and many other teachers in the district, especially when it comes to the many community and media projects we’re all a part of on behalf of the district.”
Dr. Patricia Camp is the Rahway Public School’s current superintendent. The neuroscientist-turned teacher-turned administrator is in her fourth year with Rahway. In Dr. Camp, Mr. Kinch and numerous other educators in the district have found a reliable ally in their pursuit of service projects related to the public schools and the larger Rahway community.
In speaking with Keren Lebron Ramos, a similar sentiment emerged. She said little about her own personal and educational accomplishments but was quick to highlight the assistance she had received from others. She noted first her gratitude to social studies teacher John Odin and RHS vice principal Tricia Volino-Reinoso, both of whom nominated her for the award, and commented on how much it meant to her to have in attendance that evening mathematics teacher Leslie Breen and retired Rahway teacher and administrator Paula Braxton (the latter of whom, we might note, happens to have been the Kindergarten teacher of the author of this article all the way back in 1980).
And then the conversation with Keren also turned to the support she felt she had received from Dr. Camp. “It means a lot to me that she is so supportive and to see her at the NAACP event just shows that she was willing to take a moment to show up and support us.”
Keren’s mother, Serena Ramos, works as a secretary in the district, in the 7th and 8th Grade Academy. Keren noted how often Dr. Camp had reached out to her as well. “Dr. Camp has always given my mother a great deal of support too,” she said, “sharing with her possible academic opportunities for me, either involving college or other programs and extracurricular activities.”
Considering the pattern of Dr. Camp’s regular involvement in the activities of her teachers that was beginning to emerge, it was perhaps no mere coincidence that, just the other day, when I sought her out for information about this article, I found her not at all far away, in the high school building, in a classroom, immersed in a discussion with Mr. Kinch and his media team partner, technology facilitator Joseph Mudrak, all three working together on yet another project.
Mr. Mudrak, who has worked now for several years with both Mr. Kinch and Dr. Camp on a variety of initiatives, told me, “As teachers, it’s meaningful when we receive support from administrators. Dr. Camp’s presence at events like the NAACP evening and her assistance in general highlight that fact and are meaningful for that reason.”
Of course, we wanted to hear from Dr. Camp herself, but when it was suggested to her that perhaps the focus ought to be as much about her and her steady presence in the lives of her teachers, she dismissed the notion, turning the attention immediately back to the educators themselves. “Mr. Kinch is a teacher I would want my son having. He works tirelessly for his students to broaden their horizons,” she said. “And Keren is just an amazing student. She doesn’t center her life around herself alone but on her community both within RHS and in the town of Rahway itself. I am confident that she will forge her own path toward a productive and enriching life.”
So the research for this article left me wondering who exactly should get the last word in a story about the alchemy of student, teacher, administrator, organization, and community. Perhaps it is enough to say that the synergistic nature of volunteer work is, in the end, the real story in the broadest sense, that no act of service is ever accomplished singlehandedly and it is often those individuals behind-the-scenes, attracting little attention and going largely unnoticed, who play as large a role as those who more often receive the immediate credit or the public accolades. That’s a message, one suspects, that the NAACP, Mr. Kinch, Dr. Camp, and Keren Lebron Ramos would all at once most heartily endorse.