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Giving Everything to My School and Community

A second-year corps member reflects on his commitment to bond with every student at Jefferson Middle School.

By The TFA Editorial Team

March 5, 2024

Nearing the end of his second year as a Teach for America corps member in Caldwell, Amir Bangura (who goes by his middle name, Akim) looks back on his experience as a middle school special education teacher and sports coach as an enormous learning and growth experience—not just for him but for his school as well.

Akim grew up in Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, but has learned to love the Caldwell community and Jefferson Middle School, and is almost certain to return for a third year there. As the only Black teacher in the Caldwell district, he said his work is not yet done. He still has more to learn and to share with adults and students alike.

“When I joined TFA, I wanted to do a lot more than the bare minimum. I wanted to create a legacy,” Akim said. “I wanted wherever I ended up to be somewhere where I was remembered for years and years and years, and that's why I give everything that I have to my school and to my community.”

The administrative team at Jefferson has been supportive, and the strength of that team also played a major role in Akim’s decision to stay at the school.

“They try endlessly and tirelessly to improve not just the school but our community, our teaching practices. They're never satisfied and that's just a really gratifying system to be a part of,” Akim said. “I’m blessed to call them my administrators.”

Akim does a lot more than teach at Jefferson. An athlete himself, he also coaches football, track and field, and boys and girls basketball. He also reads the morning announcements over the loudspeaker each day, spicing the broadcast with his East Coast slang and wit.

“I have been able to affect every single student at Jefferson,” he said. “There’s not a Jefferson student that doesn’t have some kind of bond with me.”

As if that isn’t enough Akim also founded the African American Student Union. Among Jefferson’s 570 students, just 13 are Black. All 13 belong to the organization. Akim said he felt it was important to those students, and the school community as a whole, to know that there was a safe space for them to process being a small minority in a sea of white and brown faces.

“We talk about pertinent issues that they're dealing with in school, issues that they may be dealing with outside of school, things that affect their lives and identity,” Akim said.

“We build community. We learn about different forms of oppression that affect Black students and Black children. I help illuminate the upbringing a little bit and it means a lot to them because they know it's authentic, they know that I'm speaking as if I was them because I was. I tell them, ‘Once upon a time I was you.’”

Akim has managed to turn even his toughest moments in Caldwell into positive learning experiences. He mentioned an incident last fall during which a group of angry basketball team parents stormed the court after the game and confronted him about playing time for their children. They were jabbing fingers in his face and shouting at him.

”They would never do that in Delaware or Philadelphia. They only do that in Idaho because they feel like I’m an easy target. I can’t retaliate, I can’t yell back, because then I would be seen as an aggressive, angry Black man,” he said.

Immediately after those parents left, other parents surrounded him with affirmation and love. The children of the aggressive parents apologized to Akim, and eventually, most of the angry parents did as well.

“Even in times of doubt, community trumped all, that’s what I learned,” Akim said. “I also learned that I was a lot stronger than I thought I was. So many things I thought would break me down I've been able to persevere through and not only survive but thrive.”