School No. 2 teacher L.J. McGhee wanted to find a way to make Black History Month feel more relevant to students throughout the school and district.

He did so with a little help from his friends. 

McGhee and fellow Pre-K disabled teacher Allison Rotola came up with the idea of creating a video highlighting success stories of former Linden Public Schools students who went on to be successful adults. Most of the subjects to contribute to the video are McGhee’s former school friends.

“The video came about because I grew up in Linden and most of my friends are successful products of the Linden Public School system,” he said. “We all are still actively involved in either the school community or community outside of the school. I thought it would be cool to have real life people that you can see daily making an impact in your community that once were sitting in the same exact seats these students are sitting in now.”

The “Mr. McGhee and Friends” video is relevant to students throughout Linden, not just from School No. 2. Participants went to schools throughout the district, including Linden High School, McManus and Soehl middle schools, and various elementary schools.

McGhee and Rotola brainstormed the idea, then got the support of Principal Peter Fingerlin and acting Vice Principal Antoinette Modrak.

“They did an amazing job,” Fingerlin said. “Very powerful! School No. 2 and the Linden Public School District continue to inspire students, of all backgrounds, to challenge themselves and exceed their own expectations.  This video is proof of that.”

Modrak added: “The work they put together created such a personal connection that has made this Black History Month celebration even more inspirational.”

Next McGhee enlisted his friends to be subjects of the video.

“When I asked the question about participating, my friends did not hesitate,” he said. “They sent me short videos about them and which school they attended and provided positive messages for the students.”

The response was so overwhelming that the video actually turned into two videos.

McGhee and Rotola also enlisted School No. 2 paraprofessional Sardou Sainvil to be in the video, as well as to use his extraordinary video editing skills to put the video together.

“Mr. Sardou did an amazing job of putting all the pieces together,” McGhee said. “The response was amazing from students, colleagues, and people in the community. Huge credit goes to those that participated and made the video so impactful to our school community.”

Many Black History Month lessons focus on famous African-Americans who made great contributions throughout history, but McGhee and Rotola felt everyday heroes from students’ own hometown may be more accessible to today’s students.

“I think it is very important to recognize the community heroes, and I was just fortunate a lot of them are my close friends of 20-plus years who walked the halls of the elementary school, middle school, and high school together,” McGhee said. “We are proud to be from Linden and want to help in any way possible.”

- Story by Gary Miller