As TEDxManhattan approaches, we've asked this year's speakers to introduce themselves by answering a few questions. Today we feature educator and poet Clint Smith. In addition to teaching English at Parkdale High School in Prince George's County, MD, Clint is an Individual World Poetry Slam finalist and was a member of Washington D.C.'s 2012 & 2013 National Slam Poetry Teams.
What's the topic you'll be speaking about?
I will be speaking on the intersection of food access and academic achievement for students in low-income communities. As a teacher in a large urban-school district I see how the dearth of healthy good options affects my students' physical and mental health, subsequently hindering their ability to focus during school. As a spoken-word artist, I use performance poetry as a platform to bring attention to the issues that affect my students and their community. Within my talk, I will be specifically addressing the phenomenon of food deserts and how they manifest themselves in my community and urban school districts across the country.
The issues of poverty, health, crime, and education cannot be tackled mutually exclusive of one another. For all of our children to have the same opportunities to be successful students, we must ensure that we invest in the holistic development of their community.
Why is this important?
23.5 million Americans live in food deserts, which disproportionately exist in communities of color – the community in which I teach. What my kids do or do not eat affects how they are able to perform when they come to my class. Where grocery stores do or do not decide to build affects the health of my students and their families. What places do or do not accept WIC and food stamps affects the life expectancies of the residents in our community. The unwarranted difficulty that so many students in low-income neighborhoods experience accessing healthy food has pervasive effects on their ability to succeed academically in addition to the pervading effects on their overall health. It is essential that we create policies that align with the urgent needs of our poorest communities. The issues of poverty, health, crime, and education cannot be tackled mutually exclusive of one another. For all of our children to have the same opportunities to be successful students, we must ensure that we invest in the holistic development of their community.
Are there other projects you're also passionate about right now – either yours or someone else's?
I recently founded the organization Collective Voice For Justice which trains students in the principles of community organizing in order to empower them to bring about meaningful, tangible change in their community. I am looking forward to building on the work my students began last year in order to transform their school, their neighborhoods, their cities, and their country.
Which other 2014 TEDxManhattan speakers are you excited about hearing?
I am incredibly excited to hear Saru Jayaraman speak about her work with the Restaurant Opportunities Center and their advocacy on behalf of low-wage service industry workers. Many of my students' parents work in the service industry, and I bear witness to the injustice of how despite working a full-time job, they still do not have enough money to provide for their families. The work that she does is urgent and of the utmost importance to our country both morally and economically.
Where can more information about your project be found?
TEDxManhattan, "Changing the Way We Eat," will take place March 1, 2014 at the TimesCenter in New York City. Interested in joining the day? You can apply to attend, or host or attend a viewing party. For more information, please visit http://www.tedxmanhattan.org/.